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Title: Italian Fantasies
Author: Zangwill, Israel
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                           ITALIAN FANTASIES



[Illustration: AN ITALIAN FANTASY

BY STEFANO DA ZEVIO (VERONA).]



                           ITALIAN FANTASIES


                                   BY

                            ISRAEL ZANGWILL

                               AUTHOR OF
                        “CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO”
                    “BLIND CHILDREN” “THE GREY WIG”
                               ETC. ETC.


                             [Illustration]


                       WITH COLOURED FRONTISPIECE


                                 LONDON
                           WILLIAM HEINEMANN
                                  1910



          _Copyright, London, 1910, by William Heinemann, and_
             _Washington, U.S.A., by The Macmillan Company_



                             AUTHOR’S NOTE


    The germ of this book may be found in three essays under the
    same title published in “Harper’s Magazine” in 1903 and 1904,
    which had the inestimable advantage of being illustrated by the
    late Louis Loeb, “the joyous comrade” to whose dear memory this
    imperfect half of what was planned as a joint labour of love
    must now be dedicated.

                                                             I. Z.



                        ALL ROADS LEAD FROM ROME



                                CONTENTS


                                                       PAGE
              OF BEAUTY, FAITH, AND DEATH: A RHAPSODY
                BY WAY OF PRELUDE                         1

              FANTASIA NAPOLITANA: BEING A REVERIE OF
                AQUARIUMS, MUSEUMS, AND DEAD CHRISTS     17

              THE CARPENTER’S WIFE: A CAPRICCIO          43

              THE EARTH THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE: OR
                THE ABSURDITY OF ASTRONOMY               77

              OF AUTOCOSMS WITHOUT FACTS: OR THE
                EMPTINESS OF RELIGIONS                   84

              OF FACTS WITHOUT AUTOCOSMS: OR THE
                IRRELEVANCY OF SCIENCE                  104

              OF FACTS WITH ALIEN AUTOCOSMS: OR THE
                FUTILITY OF CULTURE                     120

              ST. FRANCIS: OR THE IRONY OF
                INSTITUTIONS                            137

              THE GAY DOGES: OR THE FAILURE OF SOCIETY
                AND THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF SOCIALISM      159

              THE SUPERMAN OF LETTERS: OR THE
                HYPOCRISY OF POLITICS                   172

              LUCREZIA BORGIA: OR THE MYTH OF HISTORY   186

              SICILY AND THE ALBERGO SAMUELE BUTLER:
                OR THE FICTION OF CHRONOLOGY            195

              INTERMEZZO                                205

              LACHRYMÆ RERUM AT MANTUA: WITH A
                DENUNCIATION OF D’ANNUNZIO              214

              OF DEAD SUBLIMITIES, SERENE
                MAGNIFICENCES, AND GAGGED POETS         227

              VARIATIONS ON A THEME                     241

              HIGH ART AND LOW                          249

              AN EXCURSION INTO THE GROTESQUE: WITH A
                GLANCE AT OLD MAPS AND MODERN
                FALLACIES                               259

              AN EXCURSION INTO HEAVEN AND HELL: WITH
                A DEPRECIATION OF DANTE                 280

              ST. GIULIA AND FEMALE SUFFRAGE            298

              ICY ITALY: WITH VENICE RISING FROM THE
                SEA                                     307

              THE DYING CARNIVAL                        315

              NAPOLEON AND BYRON IN ITALY: OR LETTERS
                AND ACTION                              320

              THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHLEBOTOMY: A
                PARADOX AT PAVIA                        331

              RISORGIMENTO: WITH SOME REMARKS ON SAN
                MARINO AND THE MILLENNIUM               337

       Transcriber’s Notes can be found at the end of this eBook.



       OF BEAUTY, FAITH, AND DEATH: A RHAPSODY BY WAY OF PRELUDE


I too have crossed the Alps, and Hannibal himself had no such baggage of
dreams and memories, such fife-and-drum of lyrics, such horns of ivory,
such emblazoned standards and streamered gonfalons, flying and
fluttering, such phalanxes of heroes, such visions of cities to spoil
and riches to rifle—palace and temple, bust and picture, tapestry and
mosaic. My elephants too matched his; my herds of mediæval histories,
grotesque as his gargoyled beasts. Nor without fire and vinegar have I
pierced my passage to these green pastures. “_Ave Italia, regina
terrarum!_” I cried, as I kissed the hem of thy blue robe, starred with
white cities.

There are who approach Italy by other portals, but these be the true
gates of heaven, these purple peaks snow-flashing as they touch the
stainless sky; scarred and riven with ancient fires, and young with jets
of living water. Nature’s greatness prepares the heart for man’s glory.

I too have crossed the Rubicon, and Cæsar gathered no such booty. Gold
and marble and sardonyx, lapis-lazuli, agate and alabaster, porphyry,
jasper and bronze, these were the least of my spoils. I plucked at the
mystery of the storied land and fulfilled my eyes of its loveliness and
colour. I have seen the radiant raggedness of Naples as I squeezed in
the squirming, wriggling ant-heap; at Paestum I have companied the
lizard in the forsaken Temple of Poseidon. (O the soaring Pagan pillars,
divinely Doric!) I have stood by the Leaning Tower in Bologna that gave
a simile to Dante; and by the long low wall of Padua’s university,
whence Portia borrowed her learned plumes, I have stayed to scan a
placarded sonnet to a Doctor of Philology; I have walked along that
delectable Riviera di Levante and left a footprint on those wind-swept
sands where Shelley’s mortal elements found their fit resolution in
flame. I have lain under Boccaccio’s olives, and caressed with my eye
the curve of the distant Duomo and the winding silver of the Arno.
Florence has shown me supreme earth-beauty, Venice supreme water-beauty,
and I have worshipped Capri and Amalfi, offspring of the love-marriage
of earth and water.

O sacredness of sky and sun! Receive me, ye priests of Apollo. I am for
lustrations and white robes, that I may kneel in the dawn to the
Sun-God. Let me wind in the procession through the olive groves. For
what choking Christian cities have we exchanged the lucid Pagan
hill-towns? Behold the idolatrous smoke rising to Mammon from the
factory altars of Christendom. We have sacrificed our glad sense of the
world-miracle to worldly miracles of loaves and fishes. Grasping after
the unseen, we have lost the divinity of the seen. Ah me! shall we ever
recapture that first lyric rapture?

O consecration of the purifying dawn, O flame on the eastern altar, what
cathedral rose-window can replace thee? O trill of the lark, soaring
sunward, O swaying of May boughs and opening of flower chalices, what
tinkling of bells and swinging of censers can bring us nearer the divine
mystery? What are our liturgies but borrowed emotions, grown cold in the
passing and staled by use—an anthology for apes!

But I wrong the ape. Did not an Afric explorer—with more insight than
most, albeit a woman—tell me how even an ape in the great virgin
forests will express by solemn capers some sense of the glory and
freshness of the morning, his glimmering reason struggling towards
spiritual consciousness, and moving him to dance his wonder and
adoration? Even so the Greek danced his way to religion and the drama.
Alas for the ape’s degenerate cousin, the townsman shot to business
through a tube!

I grant him that the shortest distance between two points is a straight
line, yet ’tis with the curve that beauty commences. Your crow is the
scientific flier, and a dismal bird it is. Who would demand an austere,
unbending route ’twixt Sorrento and Amalfi instead of the white road
that winds and winds round that great amphitheatre of hills, doubling on
itself as in a mountain duet, and circumvoluting again and yet again,
till the intertangled melody of peaks becomes a great choral burst, and
all the hills sing as in the Psalmist, crag answering crag! Do you grow
impatient when chines yawn at your feet and to skirt them the road turns
inland half a mile, bringing you back on the other side of the chasm, as
to your mere starting-point? Do you crave for an iron-trestled American
bridge to span the gap? Nay; science is the shortest distance between
two points, but beauty, like art, is long.

What is this haste to arrive? Give me to walk and walk those high paths
hung ’twixt mountain and sea: the green wild grass, with its dots of
daisy and dandelion; cactus and asphodel overhanging from the
mountain-side, figs, olives, vines, sloping in terraced patches to the
sea, which through bronze leafy tunnels shows blue and sparkling at the
base of contorted cliffs. A woman’s singing comes up from the green and
grey tangle of gnarled trunks, and mingles with the sweet piping of the
birds. A brown man moves amid the furrows. A sybil issues from a pass,
leaning on her staff, driving a pair of goats, her head swathed in a
great white handkerchief. I see that the Italian painters have copied
their native landscape as well as their fellow men and women, though
they pictured Palestine or Hellas or the land of faery. Not from inner
fancy did Dosso Dossi create that glamorous background for his Circe.
That sunny enchantment, that redolence of mediæval romaunt, exhales from
many a haunting spot in these castled crags. Not from mere technical
ingenuity did the artists of the Annunciation and other sacred indoor
subjects introduce in their composition the spaces of the outer world
shining through doors or windows or marble porticoes, vistas of earthly
loveliness fusing with the holy beauty. Geology is here the handmaiden
of Art and Theology. The painters found these effects to hand, springing
from the structure of cities set upon ridges, as in a humble smithy of
Siena whose entrance is in a street, but whose back, giving upon a sheer
precipice, admits the wide purpureal landscape; or in that church in
Perugia, dominating the Umbrian valley, where the gloom of the Old
Masters in the dim chapel is suddenly broken by the sunlit spaciousness
of an older Master, framed in a little window. Do you wonder that the
Perugian Pintoricchio would not let his St. Jerome preach to a mere
crowded interior, or that the Umbrian school is from the first alive to
the spirit of space? Such pictures Italy makes for us not only from
interiors, but from wayside peep-holes, from clefts in the rock or gaps
in the greenery. The country, dark with cypresses or gleaming with domes
and campaniles, everywhere composes itself into a beautiful harmony; one
needs not eye-points of vantage. The peep-hole simply fixes one’s point
of view, frames the scene in one’s horizon of vision, and suggests by
its enhancement of Nature the true task of Art in unifying a sprawling
chaos of phenomena. And if to disengage the charm of space, Raphael and
Perugino and Francia and even Mariotto Albertinelli make such noble use
of the arch, was it not that its lovely limitation and definition of the
landscape had from early Roman antiquity been revealed by Architecture?
Arches and perspectives of arches, cloisters and colonnades, were
weaving a rhythm of space round the artists in their daily walks. Where
Nature was beautiful and Art was second Nature, the poets in paint were
made as well as born.

Paradox-mongers have exalted Art above Nature, yet what pen or brush
could reproduce Amalfi—that vibrant atmosphere, that shimmer and
flicker of clouds, sunshine, and water; the ruined tower on the spit,
the low white town, the crescent hills beyond, the blue sky bending over
all as over a great glimmering cup? Beethoven, who wrote always with
visual images in his mind, might have rendered it in another art,
transposing it into the key of music; for is not beauty as mutable as
energy, and what were the music of the spheres but the translation of
their shining infinitude?

Truer indeed such translation into singing sound than into the
cacophonies of speech, particularly of scientific speech.

I saw a great angel’s wing floating over Rimini, its swan-like feathers
spread with airy grace across the blue—but I must call it cirrus
clouds, forsooth—ruffling themselves on a firmament of illusion. We
name a thing and lo! its wonder flies, as in those profound myths where
all goes well till scientific curiosity comes to mar happiness. Psyche
turns the light on Cupid, Elsa must know Lohengrin’s name. With what
subtle instinct the Hebrew refused to pronounce the name of his deity! A
name persuades that the unseizable is seized, that leviathan is drawn
out with a hook. “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without
knowledge?” Primitive man projected his soul into trees and
stones—animism the wise it call—but we would project into man the
soullessness of stones and trees. Finding no soul in Nature, we would
rob even man of his, desperately disintegrating it back to mechanic
atoms. The savage lifted Nature up to himself; we would degrade
ourselves to Nature. For scientific examination read unscientific
ex-animation. And now ’tis the rare poet and artist for whom river and
tree incarnate themselves in nymphs and dryads. Your Böcklin painfully
designs the figures once created by the painless mythopoiesis of the
race; your Kipling strives to breathe back life into ships and engines.
As philosophy is but common sense by a more circuitous route, so may Art
be self-conscious savagery. And herein lies perhaps the true inwardness
of the Psyche legend. The soul exchanges the joys of _naïveté_ for the
travails of self-consciousness, but in the end wins back its simple
happiness, more stably founded. Yet, so read, the myth needs the
supplement of an even earlier phase—it might well have occupied a
spandrel at least in those delicious decorations for the ceiling of the
Villa Farnesina that Raphael drew from the fable of Apuleius—in which
Psyche, innocent of the corporeal Cupid, should dream of Amor. For me at
least the ecstasy of vision has never equalled the enchantment of the
visionary. O palm and citron, piously waved and rustled by my father at
the Feast of Tabernacles, you brought to my grey garret the whisper and
aroma of the sun-land. (Prate not of your Europes and Asias; these be no
true geographic cuts; there is but a sun-life and an ice-life, and the
grey life of the neutral zones.) But the solidities cannot vie with the
airy fantasies. Where is the magic morning-freshness that lay upon the
dream-city? Dawn cannot bring it, though it lay its consecrating gold
upon the still lagoons of a sea-city, or upon the flower-stones of a
Doge’s palace. Poets who have sung best of soils and women have not
always known them: the pine has dreamed of the palm, and the palm of the
pine.

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard . . .” Ah, those unheard!
Were it not better done—as poets use—never to sport with Beatrice in
the shade, nor with the tangles of loved Laura’s hair? Shall Don Quixote
learn that Dulcinea del Toboso is but a good, likely country lass? I
would not marry the sea with a ring, no, not for all the gold and purple
of the Bucentaur. What should a Doge of dreams be doing in that galley?
To wed the sea—and know its mystery but petulance, its unfathomed caves
only the haunt of crude polypi; no mermaids, no wild witchery, and
pearls but a disease of the oyster!

Mayhap I had been wiser to keep my Italian castles in Spain than to
render myself obnoxious to the penalties of the actual. Rapacity,
beggary, superstition, hover over the loveliness of the land like the
harpies and evil embodiments in Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s homely _Allegory
of Bad Government_ in the Sala della Pace of Siena. To-day that
fourteenth-century cartoonist would have found many a new episode for
his frescoed morality-play, whereof the ground-plot would run: how, to
be a Great Power with martial pride of place, Italy sacrifices the
substance. Incalculably rich in art, her every village church bursting
with masterpieces beyond the means of millionaires, she hugs her
treasures to her ragged bosom with one skinny hand, the other extended
for alms. Adorable Brother Francis of Assisi, with thy preachment of
“holy poverty,” didst thou never suspect there could be an unholy
poverty? ’Tis parlous, this beatitude of beggary. More bandits bask at
thy shrine than at almost any other spot in Christendom. Where the
pilgrims are, there the paupers are gathered together; there must be
rich prey in those frenzied devotees who crawl up thy chapel, licking
its rough stones smooth. Thou hadst no need of food: if two small loaves
were provided for thy forty days’ Lent in that island in the Lake of
Perugia, one and a half remained uneaten; and even if half a loaf seemed
better to thee than no bread, ’twas merely because the few mouthfuls
chased far from thee the venom of a vainglorious copy of thy Master.
Perchance ’tis from some such humility the beggars of Assisi abstain
from a too emulous copy of thee. Thou didst convert thy brother, the
fierce wolf of Agobio, and give the countryside peace, but what of this
pack of wolves thou hast loosed—in sheep’s clothing! With what joy did
I see in a church at Verona an old barefoot, naked-kneed beggar, who was
crouching against a pillar, turn into marble!

Or shall we figure Italia’s beggars as her mosquitos, inevitable
accompaniment of her beauties? The mosquito-mendicant, come he as
cripple or cicerone, buzzes ever in one’s ears, foe to meditation and
enkindlement. Figure me seeking refuge in a Palazzo of once imperial
Genoa; treading pensively the chambers of Youth and Life, the Arts, and
the Four Seasons, through which duchesses and marchese had trailed
silken skirts. With gaze uplifted at the painted ceilings, I ponder on
that magnificence of the world and the flesh which the Church could not
wither—nay, which found consummate expression in the Pope’s own church
in St. Peter’s, where the baldachino of twinkling lights supplies the
one touch of religious poetry. I pass into the quiet library and am
received by the venerable custodian, a Dr. Faustus in black skull-cap
and white beard. He does the honours of his learned office, brings me
precious Aldines. Behold this tome of antique poetry, silver-typed—a
“limited edition,” twenty-four copies made for the great families. He
gloats with me over Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”; over the fantasy of the
title-page, the vignettes of nymphs and flowers, the spacious folio
pages. Here is Homer in eight languages. My heart goes out to the
scholarly figure as we bend over the parallel columns, bookworms both. I
envy the gentle Friar of Letters his seclusion and his treasures. He
lugs out a mediæval French manuscript, a poem on summer—“Saison aussi
utile que belle,” he adds unexpectedly. We discourse on manuscripts: of
the third-century Virgil at Florence and its one missing leaf in the
Vatican; how French manuscripts may be found as early as the tenth
century, while the Italian scarcely precede Dante, and demonstrate his
creation of the language. We laud the Benedictines for their loving
labour in multiplying texts—he is wrought up to produce the apple of
his eye, an illuminated manuscript that had belonged to a princess. It
is bound in parchment, with golden clasps. “Figures de la Bible” I seem
to remember on its ornate title-page. I bend lovingly over the quaint
letters, I see the princess’s white hand turning the polychrome pages,
her lace sleeve ruffled exquisitely as in a Bronzino portrait. Suddenly
Dr. Faustus ejaculates in English: “Give me a drink!”

My princess fled almost with a shriek, and I came back to the sordid
Italy of to-day. Of to-day? Is not yesterday’s glamour equally
illusionary? But perhaps Genoa with her commercial genius is no typical
daughter of Italia. Did not Dante and the Tuscan proverb alike denounce
her? Does not to-day’s proverb say that it takes ten Jews to make one
Genoese? And yet it was Genoa that produced Mazzini and sped Garibaldi.

Would you wipe out this bookish memory by a better? Then picture the
library of a monastery, that looks out on the cypressed hills, whose
cloisters Sodoma and Signorelli frescoed with naïve legends of St.
Benedict and Satan. See under the long low ceiling, propped on the cool
white pillars, those niched rows of vellum bindings guarding the
leisurely Latin lore of the Fathers. Behold me meditating the missals
and pontificals, pageants in manuscript, broidered and illuminated, all
glorious with gold initials and ultramarine and vermilion miniatures; or
those folio processions of sacred music, each note pranked in its
bravery and stepping statelily amid garlands of blue and gold and the
hovering faces of angels; dreaming myself into that mystic peace of the
Church, till the vesper bell calls to paternosters and genuflexions, and
the great organ rolls out to drown this restless, anchorless century.
Now am I for nones and primes, for vigils and sackcloth, for breviaries
and holy obedience. In shady cloisters, mid faded frescoes, round sleepy
rose-gardens, I will pace to papal measures, while the serene sun-dial
registers the movement of the sun round the earth. Who speaks of a
religion as though it were dependent upon its theology? Dogmas are but
its outward show; inwardly and subtly it lives by its beauty, its
atmosphere, its inracination in life, and its creed is but a poor
attempt to put into words a thought too large for syllables, too elusive
for phrases. Language is a net that catches the fish and lets the ocean
stream through. Again that fallacy of the Name.

Beautiful I will call that service I saw at Bologna on Whitsun Sunday,
though you must dive deep to find the beauty. Not in S. Petronio itself
will you find it, in those bulbous pillars swathed in crimson damask,
though there is a touch of it in the vastness, the far altar, the remote
choir and surpliced priests on high, the great wax candle under the big
baldachino, the congregation lost in space. Nor will you easily
recognise it in the universal disorder, in that sense of a church parade
_within_ the church, in the _brouhaha_ that drowns the precentor’s
voice, in the penny chairs planted or stacked as the worshippers ebb or
flow, in the working men and their families sprawling over the
altar-steps, in the old women coifed in coloured handkerchiefs, with
baskets that hold bottles as well as prayer-books; not even in the
pretty women in Parisian hats, or the olive-skinned girls in snoods,
least of all in the child’s red balloon, soaring to the roof at the very
moment of the elevation of the Host, and followed with heavenward eyes
by half the congregation. And yet there is no blasphemy even in the
balloon; the child’s innocent pleasure in its toy is mixed with its
sense of holy festivity. There is no sharp contrast of sacred and
secular. The church does not end with its portals; it extends into the
great piazza. Nor do the crowds squatting on its steps in the sun, and
seething in the square it dominates, feel themselves outside the
service. The very pigeons seem to flutter with a sense of sacred
holiday, as though they had just listened to the sermon of their big
brother, St. Francis. The Church, like the radiant blue sky, is over
all. And this is the genius of Catholicism.

Not without significance are those thirteenth-century legends in which
even the birds and the fishes were brought into the fold universal, as
into a spiritual Noah’s Ark, all equally in need of salvation. Some of
the Apostles themselves were mere fishers, spreading no metaphoric net.
What an evolution to St. Antony, who wins the finny tribes to reverence
and dismisses them with the divine blessing! Even the horses are blessed
in Rome on St. Antony’s Day, or in his name at Siena before the great
race for the Palio, each runner sprinkled in the church of its ward.

To think that missionaries go forth to preach verbal propositions
violently torn from the life and the historic enchainment and the art
and the atmosphere! If they would but stay at home and reform the words,
which must ever change, so as to preserve the beauty, which must never
die! For words must change, if only to counterbalance their own
mutations and colourings, their declines and falls. They are no secure
envelope for immortal truths: I would as lief embody my fortunes in a
paper currency. Let the religion of the future be writ only in
music—Palestrina’s or Allegri’s, Bach’s or Wagner’s, as you will—so
that no heresies can spring from verbal juggles, distorted texts, or
legal quibbles. And yet—would the harmony be unbroken? What quarrels
over misprinted sharps and naturals! How the doctors of music would
disagree on the _tempo_ and the phrasing and burn and excommunicate for
a dotted semibreve! What Church Councils—the pianissimo party versus
the fortissimo, legato legions and staccato squadrons, the Holy Wars of
Harmony—all Christian history _da capo_!

I like that gracious tolerance of humanism you find in some Renaissance
pictures, those composite portraits of ideas, in which Pagan and
Christian types and periods mingle in the higher synthesis of
conception—or perhaps even in a happy inconsistence of dual belief.
Raphael could not represent the conflagration in the Borgo that was
extinguished by papal miracle without consecrating a corner of his work
to the piety of Æneas, carrying Anchises on his back in a parallel
moment of peril. Raphael’s work is, in fact, almost a series of
illustrations of the Sposalizio of Hebraism and Hellenism. That library
of Julius II in the Vatican may stand as the scene of their union.
Beyond the true Catholicism of its immortal frescoes humanism cannot go.
If the _Theology_ is mainly confined to Biblical concepts and figures,
it is supplemented by Perino del Vaga’s picture of the Cumæan Sybil
showing the Madonna to Augustus, which is at least a dovetailing of the
divided worlds and eras. And if to explain the parity of Sybils with
prophets in the designs of Michelangelo you call in those Fathers of the
Church who found Christology in the old Sybilline leaves and have
coupled David and the Sybil in the Catholic funeral service, you must
admit a less dubious largeness in Raphael’s cartoons for the dome
mosaics in the Cappella Chigi of Santa Maria del Popolo; for to group
the gods of Hellas round the Creator and His angels, even by an
astronomic device involving their names for the planets, shows a mood
very far removed from that of the Christians who went to the lions in
this very Rome. (The consistent Christian mood is seen in the Quaker’s
avoidance of the heathen names of our days and months, mere bald
numeration replacing the Norse and Roman divinities.) Moreover,
Raphael’s _Parnassus_ is almost wholly to the glory of ancient Greece
and Rome. It is Dante and Petrarch who are honoured by neighbouring
Homer and Virgil. It is the violin that is glorified by Apollo’s playing
upon it. Anachronism if you will. But Art may choose to see history _sub
specie æternitatis_, and surely in Plato’s heaven rests the archetypal
violin, to which your Stradivarius or Guarnerius is a banjo.

Nor has antiquity ever received a nobler tribute than in _The School of
Athens_, that congregation of Pagan philosophers to which the Dukes of
Urbino and Mantua repair, to which Raphael himself brings his teacher,
while Bramante, builder of St. Peter’s, is proud to adorn the train of
Aristotle. See, too, under the ceiling-painting of _Justice_, how Moses
bringing the tables of the Law to the Israelites is supplemented by
Justinian giving the Pandects to Tritonian. Thus is Justice more subtly
illustrated than perhaps the painter consciously designed. How
finely—if even more paradoxically—this temper repeats itself later in
the English Puritan and Italian sonneteer, Milton, whose “Lycidas”
vibrates ’twixt the Classic and the Christian, and whose very epic of
Hebraism is saturated with catholic allusiveness, and embraces that
stately panegyric of

        “Athens, the eye of Greece, mother of arts
         And eloquence.”

Why, indeed, quarrel over religions when all men agree; all men, that
is, at the same grade of intellect! The learned busy themselves
classifying religions—there are reviews at Paris and Tübingen—but in
the crude working world religion depends less on the belief than on the
believer. All the simplest minds believe alike, be they Confucians or
Christians, Jews or Fantees. The elemental human heart will have its
thaumaturgic saints, its mapped hells, its processional priests, its
prompt answers to prayer, and if deprived of them will be found subtly
to reintroduce them. Mohammed and the Koran forbade the worship of
saints, yet the miracles and mediations of the _walis_ and the
pilgrimages to their tombs—with Mohammed himself as arch-_wali_—are
inseparable from Islam. The Buddha who came to teach a holy atheism was
made a god, the proclaimer of natural law a miracle-monger, his
revolution turned into a revolution of prayer-wheels and his religion
into the High Church Romanism of Lamaism. The Hebrew Torah which cried
anathema on idols became itself an idol, swathed in purple, adorned with
golden bells, and borne round like a Madonna for reverent kisses. The
Madonna herself, overgrown with the roses of a wayside shrine,
perpetuates the worship of Flora. On the very gates of St. Peter’s,
Europa, Ganymede, and Leda show their brazen faces. Not Confucius nor
Christ can really expel devils. What grosser idolatry than the worship
of those dressed wax dolls which make many an Italian church like a
theological Madame Tussaud’s! The Church has its Chamber of Horrors too,
its blood and nails and saintly skulls; the worship of Moloch was not
more essentially morbid. At the base of the intellectual mountain
flourishes rank and gorgeous vegetation, a tropic luxuriance; higher up,
in the zone of mediocrity, there are cultivated temperate slopes and
pruned gardens, pleasant pastures and ordered bowers; at the snowy
summits, in the rarefied æther, flash white the glacial impersonal
truths, barely a tuft of moss or lichen. Hark! peak is crying unto peak:
“Thy will be done.”

But what is this new voice—comes it from the mole-hills?—“_Our_ will
be done.” See—in the mask of the highest Christianity and science—the
old thaumaturgy creeping in, though now every man is his own saint,
healing his own diseases, denying death with a Podsnappian wave o’ the
hand. O my friends, get ye to the Eternal City—that canvas for the
flying panorama of races and creeds—and peep into a coffin in the
Capitoline Museum, and see the skeleton of the Etruscan girl, with rings
glittering on her bony fingers, and bracelets on her fleshless wrists,
and her doll at her side, in ironic preservation, its blooming cheeks
and sparkling eyes mocking the eyeless occiput of its mistress. Even so
shall your hugged treatises and your glittering gospels show among your
bones. Do you not know that death is the very condition of life—bound
up with it as darkness with light? How trivial the thought that sees
death but in the cemetery! ’Tis not only the grave that parts us from
our comrades and lovers; we lose them on the way. Lose them not only by
quarrel and estrangement, but by evolution and retrogression. They
broaden or narrow away from us, and we from them; they are changed,
other, transformed, dead and risen again. Woe for the orphans of living
parents, the widowers of undeceased wives! Our early Ego dies by inches,
till, like the perpetually darned sock, it retains nothing but the
original mould and shaping. Let us read the verse more profoundly: “In
the midst of life we are in death.” Whoever dies in the full tilt of his
ambitions is buried alive, and whoever survives his hopes and fears is
dead, unburied. Death for us is all we have missed, all the periods and
planets we have not lived in, all the countries we have not visited, all
the books we have not read, all the emotions and experiences we have not
had, all the prayers we have not prayed, all the battles we have not
fought. Every restriction, every negation, is a piece of death. Not
wholly has popular idiom ignored this truth. “Dead to higher things,” it
says; but we may be dead too to the higher mathematics. Death for the
individual is the whole universe outside his consciousness, and life but
the tiny blinking light of consciousness. But between the light and the
dark is perpetual interplay, and we turn dark to light and let light
subside to dark as our thoughts and feelings veer this way or that.

And since ’tis complexity of consciousness that counts, and the death of
the amœba or the unborn babe is less a decomposition than the death of a
man, so is the death of a philosopher vaster than the death of a
peasant. We have but one word for the drying up of an ocean and the
drying up of a pool. And the sediment, the clay that we bury, wherefore
do we still label it with the living name? As if Cæsar might truly stop
a bung-hole! Mark Antony might come to praise Cæsar; he could not bury
him.

Here lies Mazzini forsooth! As if that spirit of white fire could rest
even on the farthest verge of thee, O abominable Campo Santo of Genoa,
with thy central rotunda pillared with black marble, thy spires and
Grecian buildings, thy Oriental magnificence, redeemed only by the
natural hills in which thou nestlest. Are our ashes indeed so grandiose
and spectacular a thing? Or art thou a new terror added to death? From
thy haughty terrace—whereon Death himself in black marble fights with a
desperate woman—I have gazed down upon thy four parallelograms, bounded
by cypresses and starred with great daisies, that seen nearer are white
crosses, and a simple _contadina_ lighting the lamp for her beloved dead
alone softens the scene. O the endless statuary of the gallery, the
arcades of slabs and reliefs, the faded wreaths, or those drearier beads
that never fade!—I could pray to the Madonna whose blue and gold halo
shines over thy dead to send a baby earthquake to swallow thee up.

Away with these cemeteries of stone, this frigid pomp of death, that
clings on to life even while spouting texts of resignation! Who cares
for these parish chronicles, these parallelograms of good people that
lived and fell on sleep, these worthy citizens and fond spouses. Horrid
is that clasp of intertwined hands. I could chop at those fingers with
an axe. ’Tis indecent, this graveyard flirtation. Respect your privacy,
good skeletons! Ye too, couples of the Etruscan catacombs, who dash our
spirits from your urns, to what end your graven images outside your
incinerated relics? Not in marmoreal mausolea, nor in railed-off tombs,
with knights and dames couchant, not in Medici chapels nor in the florid
monuments of Venetian Doges, not in the columbaria of the Via Appia nor
in the Gothic street-tombs of the Scaliger princes, resides death’s true
dignity—they are the vain apery of life—but in some stoneless,
flowerless grave where only the humped earth tells that here lies the
husk of one gathered into the vastness of oblivion.

There are times when one grows impatient for death. There is a sweetness
in being gathered to one’s fathers. The very phrase is restful. Dying
sounds more active; it recalls doing, and one is so tired of doing. But
to be culled softly, to be sucked up—the very vapour of the
Apostle—how balmily passive: to be wafted into the quiet Past, which
robs even fame of its sting, and wherein lie marshalled and sorted and
ticketed and dated, in stately dictionaries and monumental
encyclopædias, all those noisy poets, painters, warriors, all neatly
classified and silent. And the sweet silence of the grave allures even
after the bitter silence of life; after the silent endurance that is our
one reply to the insolence of facts. And in these delicate, seductive
moments, half longing, half acquiescence, the air is tremulous with
tender, crooning phrases, with gentle, wistful melodies, the hush-a-bye
of the earth-mother drawing us softly to her breast.

But an you will not acquiesce in simple earth-to-earth, I commend you to
the Greek sarcophagi you may see in the Naples Museum. There you will
find no smirking sentiment, no skull and cross-bones—ensign of Pirate
Death—but the very joy of life, ay, even a Bacchanalian gladness. I
recall a radiant procession, Cupids riding centaurs and lions and
playing on lyres, mortals driving chariots and blowing trumpets, or
dancing along, arms round one another’s necks.

        “What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?”

Bury me in an old Greek sarcophagus, or let me fade into the anonymous
grass.



  FANTASIA NAPOLITANA: BEING A REVERIE OF AQUARIUMS, MUSEUMS, AND DEAD
                                CHRISTS


                                   I

Of all the excursions I made from Naples—renowned headquarters for
excursions—none led me through more elemental highways than that which
started from the Aquarium, at a fee of two lire. Doubtless the Aquarium
of Naples exists for men of science, but men of art may well imagine it
has been designed as a noble poem in colour. Such chromatic splendours,
such wondrous greens and browns and reds, subtly not the colour scale of
earth, for over all a mystic translucence, a cool suffusion, every hue
suffering “a sea change into something rich and strange”! And the form
of all these sea-creatures and sea-flowers so graceful, so grotesque, so
manifold! “Nature’s plastic hand,” as Dante hath it, works deftly in
water. It leaps to the eye that Art has invented scarcely anything, that
the art of design in particular is a vast plagiarism. Here be your
carpets and your wall-patterns, your frosted glass and your pottery.
What Persian rug excels yon lamprey’s skin? My mind goes back to a great
craftsman’s studio, stacked with brilliant beetles and
dragon-flies—Nature’s feats of bravura—to eke out his inventions. Even
the dressmaker, I remember, is the greatest client of the butterfly-net
in her quest for delicious colour-blendings. Yet with how few root-ideas
Nature has worked; the infinitude of her combinations is purely an
affair of arrangement, complicated with secondary qualities of size and
colour. Conscious life even at its most complex is a function of four
variables: a food apparatus, a breathing apparatus, a circulating
apparatus, and a nerve apparatus. With what inimitable ingenuity Nature
has rung the changes on these four factors! Her problem has affinities
with the task of the inventors of typewriters, who, having to produce
the same collision of inked type with blank paper, have found so many
ways of achieving it that their machines resemble highly organised
creatures of curious conformation, one having no resemblance to another.
Some are annular and some are cubical, some have wheels of letters, some
have letters that fly singly. ’Tis scarcely credible that they all do
the same work. Are not animals machines? said Descartes. But I ask, Are
not machines animals? A vision surges up of Venice at night—out of the
darkness of the Grand Canal comes throbbing a creature of the Naples
Aquarium—all scattered blobs of flame, cohering through a spidery
framework. Through the still, dark water it glides, under the still,
starry sky, with San Giorgio for solemn background, and only from the
voices of Venetians singing as they float past—an impassioned, sad
memory, a trilled and fluted song—could one divine behind the fiery
sea-dragon the mere steam-launch. Between the laws that fashioned
steamboats and those that fashioned the animate world there is no
essential difference. The steamboat is not even inanimate, for at the
back of it burrows man like a nautilus in its shell, and his living will
has had to fight with the same shaping forces as those which mould the
entities of the water. The saurian age of the steamboat was the uncouth
hollowed trunk, and by slow, patient evolutions and infinite tackings to
meet winds and tides, it has come to this graceful, gliding creature
that skims in the teeth of the tempest. Denied the mastery of water, man
adds a floating form to his own; forbidden the sky, he projects from
himself a monstrous aery sac or winged engine; condemned to crawl the
earth, he supplements his nerves with an electric motor apparatus. Thus
endlessly transformed, Man the Prometheus is also Man the Proteus. Dante
praised Nature for having ceased to frame monsters, save the whale and
the elephant; he did not remark that Man had continued her work on a
substratum of himself.

The forms of the typewriters are even more clearly conditioned by the
struggle for life. The early patents are the creatures in possession,
and to develop a new type without infringing on their pastures, and
risking their claws, a machine is driven into ever-odder contrivances,
like creatures that can only exist in an over-crowded _milieu_ by
wriggling into some curious shape and filling some forgotten niche. The
lust of life that runs through Nature transforms the very dust to a
creeping palpitation, fills every leaf and drop of water with
pullulating populations. ’Tis an eternal exuberance, a riotous
extravagance, an ecstasy of creation. Great is Diana of the Ephesians,
for this Diana, as you may see her figured in the Naples Museum, black
but comely, is a goddess of many breasts, a teeming mother of
generations, the swart, sun-kissed Natura Nutrix, who ranges recklessly
from man to the guinea-pig, from the earwig to the giraffe, from the
ostrich to the tortoise, from the butterfly to the lizard, from the
glued barnacle timidly extending its tentacles when the tide washes food
towards its rock, to the ravenous shark darting fiercely through the
waters and seizing even man in its iron jaws. Yet they are at best mere
variations on the primal theme of heart, brain, lungs, and stomach, now
with enchanting grace as in the gazelle, now with barbaric splendour as
in the peacock, now with a touch of grotesque genius as in the
porcupine. And directly or indirectly all of them pass into one
another—in the most literal of senses—as they range the mutual larder
of the globe.

’Tis well to remember sometimes that this globe is not obviously
constructed for man, since only one-fourth of it is even land, and that
in a census of the planet, which nobody has ever thought of taking,
man’s poor thousand millions would be out-numbered by the mere
ant-hills. And since the preponderating interests numerically of this
sphere of ours are piscine, and in a truly democratic world a Fish
President would reign, elected by the vast majority of voters, and we
should all be bowing down to Dagon, the Aquarium acquires an added
dignity, and I gaze with fresh eyes at the lustrous emerald tanks.

Ah, here is indeed a Fish President, the shell-fish that presided over
the world’s destinies; the little murex that was the source of the
greatness of Tyre, and the weaver of its purpureal robes of empire.
Hence the Phœnician commerce, Carthage, the Punic Wars, and the alphabet
in which I write.

Not only is colour softened by a sea change, but in this cool, glooming,
and glittering world the earth-creatures seem to have been sucked down
and transformed into water-creatures. There are flowers and twigs and
green waving grass that seem earth-flowers and twigs and grass
transposed into the key of water.

Only, these flowers and grasses are animal, these coralline twigs are
conscious; as if water, emulous of the creations of earth and air,
strove after their loveliness of curve and line, or as if the mermaidens
coveted them for their gardens. And there are gemmed fishes, as though
the mines of Ind had their counterpart in the forces producing these
living jewels. And there are bird-like fishes with feathery forms, that
one might expect to sing as they cleave the firmament of water: some
song less troubling than the Lorelei’s, with liquid gurgles and notes of
bubbling joy. And the sea, not content to be imitative, has added—over
and above its invention of the fish—to the great palpitation of life;
priestly forms, robed and cowled, silver-dusty pillars, half-shut
parasols. Even the common crab is an original; a homely grotesque with
no terraceous or aerial analogue, particularly as it floats in a happy
colour-harmony with a brown or red sponge on its back, a parasite
literally sponging upon it. But though you may look in vain for mermaid
or Lorelei, naiad or nymph, there is no reason in Nature why all that
poets feigned should not come into being. The water-babe might have been
as easily evolved as the earth-man, the hegemony of creation might have
been won by an aquatic creature with an accidental spurt of grey matter,
and the history of civilisation might have been writ in water. The
merman is a mere amphibian, not arrived. The gryphon and the centaur are
hybrids unborn. ’Tis just a fluke that these particular patterns of the
kaleidoscope have not been thrown. We may safely await evolutions. The
winged genius of the Romans, frequent enough on Pompeian frescoes, may
even be developed on this side of the skies, and we may fly with
sprouted wings and not merely with detachable. Puck and Ariel perchance
already frisk in some Patagonian forest, Caliban may be basking in
forgotten mud. Therefore, poets, trust yourself to life and the fulness
thereof. Whether you follow Nature’s combinations or precede them, you
may create fearlessly. From the _imitatio Naturæ_ you cannot escape,
whether you steal her combinations or her elements.

Shelley sings of “Death and his brother Sleep,” but gazing at this
mystic marine underworld of the Naples Aquarium, I would sing of Life
and his brother Sleep. For here are shown the strange beginnings of
things, half sleep, half waking: organisms rooted at one point like
flowers, yet groping out with tendrils towards life and
consciousness—the _not_ missing link between animal and vegetable life.
What feeling comes to trouble this mystic doze, stir this comatose
consciousness? The jelly-fish that seems a mere embodied pulse—a single
note replacing the quadruple chord of life—is yet a complex organism
compared with some that flit and flitter half invisibly in this green
universe of theirs: threads, insubstantialities, smoke spirals, shadowy
filaments on the threshold of existence, ghostly fibres, flashing films,
visible only by the beating of their white corpuscles. ’Tis reading the
Book of Genesis, verse by verse. And then suddenly a hitherto unseen
entity, the octopus, looses its sinuous suckers from the rock to which
its hue protectively assimilates—a Darwinian observation Lucian
anticipated in his “Dialogue of Proteus”—and unfolding itself in all
its manifold horror, steals upon its prey with swift, melodramatic
strides.

From the phantasmal polyzoa to these creatures of violent volition how
great the jump! _Natura non facit saltum_, forsooth! She is a veritable
kangaroo. From the unconscious to the conscious, from the conscious to
the self-conscious, from the self-conscious to the over-conscious,
there’s a jump at every stage, as between ice and water, water and
steam. Continuous as are her phases, a mysteriously new set of
conditions emerges with every crossed Rubicon. Dante, in making the
human embryo pass through the earlier genetic stages (“Purgatory,” Canto
XXV), seems curiously in harmony with modern thought, though he was but
reproducing Averroes.

But mankind has never forgotten its long siesta as a vegetable. Still
linked with the world of sleep through the mechanic processes of
nutrition, respiration, circulation, consciously alive only in his
higher centres, man tends ever to drowse back to the primal somnolence.
Moving along the lines of least resistance and largest comfort, he
steeps himself in the poppies of custom, drinks the mandragora of
ready-made morals, and sips the drowsy syrups of domesticity, till he
has nigh lapsed back to the automaton. But ever and anon through the
sluggish doze stirs the elemental dream, leaps the primeval fire, and
man is awake and astir and athrill for crusades, wars, martyrdoms,
revolutions, reformations, and back in his true biological genus.

Not only in man appears this contest of life and sleep: it runs through
the cosmos. There is a drag-back: the ebb of the flowing tide. How soon
the forsaken town returns to forest! Near the Roman Ghetto you may note
how the brickwork of the wall of the ancient Theatre of Marcellus has
relapsed to rock; man’s touch swallowed up in the mouldering ruggedness,
the houses at the base merely burrowed, the abodes of cave-dwellers.


                                   II

I saw the sea-serpent at Naples, though not in the Aquarium. Its
colossal bulk was humped sinuously along the bay. ’Twas the Vesuvius
range, stretching mistily. Mariners have perchance constructed the
monster from such hazy glimpses of distant reefs. Still, no dragon has
wrought more havoc than this mountain, which smokes imperturbably while
the generations rise and fall. Beautiful the smoke, too, when it grows
golden in the setting sun, and the monstrous mass turns a marvellous
purple. We wonder men should still build on Vesuvius—betwixt the devil
and the deep sea—yet the chances of eruption are no greater than the
chances of epidemic in less salubrious places, as the plague-churches of
Italy testify.

But should a new eruption overwhelm Pompeii, and its first record be
lost, there were a strange puzzle for the antiquarians of the fiftieth
century exhuming its cosmopolitan population; blonde German savages in
white pot-hats, ancient Britons in tweeds, extinct American
cycle-centaurs; incongruously resident amid the narrow streets and wide
public buildings of a prehistoric Roman civilisation.

Pompeii is buried some twenty feet deep. The Middle Ages walked over
these entombed streets and temples and suspected nothing. But all towns
are built on their dead past, for earth’s crust renews itself as
incessantly as our own skin. We walk over our ancestors. There are
twenty-seven layers of human life at Rome.

It needs no earth-convulsions, no miracles of lava. One generation of
cities succeeds another. Nature, a pious Andromache, covers up their
remains as softly as the snow falls or the grass grows. When man
uncovers them again, he finds stratum below stratum, city below city, as
though the whole were some quaint American structure of many storeys
which the earth had swallowed at a single gulp, and not with her stately
deglutition. At Gezer in Palestine Macalister has been dissecting a
tumulus which holds layers of human history as the rocks hold layers of
earth-history. Scratch the mound and you find the traces of an Arab
city, slice deeper and ’tis a Crusaders’ city; an undercut brings you to
the Roman city whence—by another short cut—you descend to the Old
Testament; to the city that was dowered to Solomon’s Egyptian Queen, to
the Philistine city, and so to the Canaanite city. But even here Gezer
is but at its prime. You have sunk through all the Christian era,
through all the Jewish era, but fifteen centuries still await your
descent. Down you delve—through the city captured by Thotmes III,
through the city of the early Semites, till at last your pick strikes
the Hivites and the Amorites, the cave-men of the primitive Gezer.
Infinitely solemn such a tumulus in its imperturbable chronicling, with
its scarabs and altars, its spear-heads and its gods, the bones of its
foundation-sacrifices yet undecayed. The Judgment Books need no
celestial clerks, no recording angels; earth keeps them as she rolls. In
our eyes, too, as we gaze upon this ant-heap of our breed, a thousand
years are but as a day—nay, as a dream that passeth in the night. We
are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded
with a mound. Beside Gezer, Pompeii and Herculaneum are theatrical,
flamboyant, the creatures of a day, the parvenus of the underworld.

Mentally, too, strange ancestral strata lie in our deeps, even as the
remains of an alimentary canal run through our spine and a primitive eye
lies in the middle of our brain—that pineal gland in which Descartes
located the soul. Sometimes we stumble over an old prejudice or a
primitive emotion, prick ourselves with an arrow of ancestral
conscience, and tremble with an ancient fear. Mayhap in slumber we
descend to these regions, exploring below our consciousness and delving
in the catacombs of antiquity.

The destruction of Pompeii was effected, however, not by Vesuvius, but
by the antiquarian. He it was to whom Pompeii fell as a spoil, he who
turned Pompeii from a piece of life to a piece of learning, by
transporting most of its treasures to a museum. The word is surely short
for mausoleum. For objects in a museum are dead, their relations with
life ended. Objects partake of the lives of their possessors, and when
cut off are as dead as finger-nails. A vase dominating the court of a
Pompeian house and a vase in the Naples Museum are as a creature to its
skeleton. What a stimulation in the one or two houses left with their
living reality—their frescoes and their furniture, their kitchens and
middens! ’Tis statues that suffer most from their arrangement in ghostly
rows. A statue is an æsthetic climax, the crown of a summit, the close
of a vista. See that sunlit statue of Meleager in the grounds of the
Villa Medici, at the end of a green avenue, with pillar and architrave
for background, and red and white roses climbing around it, and imagine
how its glory would be shorn in a gallery. The French have remembered to
put the Venus of Milo at the end of a long Louvre corridor, which she
fills with her far-seen radiance. These collections of Capolavori—these
Apollos and Jupiters, and Venuses and Muses, dumped as close as cemetery
monuments—are indeed petrified. The fancy must resurrect them into
their living relations with halls and courtyards, temples and piazzas,
shrines and loggias. The learned begin to suspect that the polytheism of
Greece and Rome is due to the analogous aggregation of local gods, each
a self-sufficing and all-powerful divinity in its own district. When
there were so many deities, their functions had to be differentiated, as
we give a different shade of meaning to two words for the same thing.
Were one to collect the many Madonnas in Italy, one might imagine
Christianity as polytheistic as Paganism.

But the most perfect visualising of a god’s statue in its local setting
will not annul that half-death which sets in with the statue’s loss of
worship. These fair visions of Pallas and Juno, shall they ever touch us
as they touched the pious Pagan? Nay, not all our sense of lovely line
and spiritual grace can replace that departed touch of divinity.

The past has indeed its glamour for us, which serves perhaps as
compensation for what we lose of the hot reality, but an inevitable
impiety clings to our inquisitive regard, to our anxious exhumation of
its secrets. Unless we go to it with our emotions as well as our
intellect, prepared to extract its spiritual significance and to warm
ourselves at the fire of its life and pour a libation to the gods of its
hearth, a wilderness of archæological lore will profit us little. A man
is other than his garments and a people than its outworn shell.

There is perhaps more method than appears at first sight in the madness
of the Turk, who reluctantly permits the scientific explorer to dig up
the past but insists that once he has unearthed his historic treasure,
his buried streets and temples, ay, of old Jerusalem itself, he shall
cover them up again. The dead past is to bury its dead. Death, whether
in citizens or their cities, is sacred. Cursed be he who turns up their
bones to the sun. And who will not sigh over the mummies, doomed to be
served up in museums after five thousand years of dignified death?
Princesses and potentates were they in their lives; how could they
dream, as they were borne in their purpureal litters through the streets
of the Pharaohs, that they would make a spectacle for barbarians on wet
half-holidays? And thou, Timhotpu, prefect of the very Necropolis of
Thebes in the eighteenth dynasty, how couldst thou suspect that even thy
gilded sarcophagus would be violated, thy golden earrings wrenched off,
thy mortuary furniture stolen, and thy fine figure exhibited to me in
the Turin Museum, turned into a grey char under thy winding-sheet! The
very eggs placed in the tombs of thy cemetery have kept their colour
better: one feels that under heat they might still hatch a hieroglyphic
chicken. But thou art for evermore desiccated and done with.

Saddest of all is the fate of the immortals: goddesses of the hearth and
gods of the heaven are alike swept into the museum-limbo. They are
shrunk to mythology, they who once charioted the constellations. For
mythology dogs all theologies, and one god after another is put on the
bookshelf.

All roads lead to the museum. Thither go our old clothes, our old coins,
our old creeds, and we wonder that men should ever have worn steel
armour or cast-iron dogmas. Gazing at the Pompeian man, that “cunning
cast in clay,” whose clutch at his money-bags survives his bodily
investiture, who does not feel as one from another planet surveying an
earth pygmy? What strange limited thoughts were thine, O Pompeian of the
first century! I warrant thou hadst not even heard of the Man of
Nazareth: how small thine atlas of the world, not to say thy chart of
the heavens! Poor ignoramus—so unacquainted with all that hath happened
since thy death! How wise and weighty thou wast at thy table, recumbent
amidst thy roses, surrounded by those gay frescoes of Cupids and
Venuses; with what self-satisfaction thou didst lay down the Roman law,
garlanded as to thy narrow forehead!

But if ’tis easy to play the Superman with this fusty provincial, ’tis
not hard to smell the museum must in our own living world. Too many
people and things do not know they are essentially of the museum: have
the arrogance to imagine they are contemporary. How full of life seems
the cannon as it belches death! Yet ’tis but an uncouth, noisy creature,
long since outgrown and outmoded among the humanised citizens of the
planet; some day it will be hunted out like the wolf and the boar, with
a price upon its mouth.

’Tis to the stage that extinct human types betake themselves by way of
after-life—the theatre serving as the anthropological museum—but there
are some that linger unconscionably on this side of the footlights.
Bigots, for example, have an air of antediluvian bipeds, monstrous
wildfowl that flap and shriek. I even gaze curiously at Gold Sticks and
pages of the Presence. They are become spectacular, and to be
spectacular is to be well on the way to the museum. Mistrust the
spasmodic splendour—leap of the dying flame. Where traditions must be
pored over, and performers rehearsed, it has become a play; is propped
on precedent instead of uplifted by sap. The passion for ritual is one
of the master-passions of humanity. Yet stage properties can never
return to the world of reality. The profession will tell you that they
are sold off to inferior theatres, never to the real world outside. What
passes into the museum can never repass the janitor.

On the leaders of life lies in each generation the duty of establishing
the museum-point. The museum-point in thought, art, morals. No matter
that obsolete modes prevail in the vulgar world: do the ladies allow the
mob to dictate their fashions? Hath a bonnet existence because it
survives in Seven Dials or the Bowery? Is a creed alive because it
flourishes in Little Bethel? Man is one vast being, and the thought of
his higher nerve-centres alone counts: generation hands the torch to
generation. Doubtless the lower ganglia are not always ready for the new
conception. But such considerations belong to Politics, not to Truth. At
the worst the map must be made while the march is preparing.


                                  III

No object in the Naples Museum fascinates the philosophic mind more than
Salpion’s vase. Who was Salpion? I know not, though his once living hand
signed his work, in bold sprawling letters,

        ΣAΛΠIΩN AΘHNAIOΣ EΠOIHΣE

An Athenian made you, then, I muse, gazing upon its beautiful marble
impassivity, and studying the alto-relievo of Mercury with his dancing
train giving over the infant Bacchus to a seated nymph of Nysa. He who
conceived you made you for sacrifices to Bacchus, lived among those
white temples which the Greeks built for the adoration of their gods,
but which remain for our adoration. He mounted that hill agleam with the
marble pillars of immortal shrines, he passed the Areopagus, and the
altar “to the unknown God”; he entered the Propylæa and gazed through
the columns of the Acropolis upon the blue Ægean. He sat in that
marmoreal amphitheatre and saw the mimes in sock and buskin take the
proscenium to the sound of lyres and flutes. Perchance ’twas while
seeing the Mercury fable treated in a choric dance in the sanded
orchestra that he composed this grouping. Perhaps he but copied it from
some play lost to us, for the Greek theatre, with its long declamations,
had more analogy with sculpture than with our agitated drama of to-day.
The legend itself is in Lucian and Apollonius. But Salpion is not the
beginning of this vase’s story. For the artist himself belonged to the
Renaissance, the scholars say; not our Renaissance, but a neo-Attic.
Salpion did but deftly reproduce the archaic traditions of the first
great period of Greek sculpture. Even in those days men’s thoughts
turned yearningly to a nobler past, and the young _prix de Rome_ who
should find inspiration in Salpion would be but imitating an imitation.
Nor is Athenian all the history this fair Attic shape has held. Much
more we know, yet much is dim. In what palace or private atrium did it
pass its first years? How did it travel to Italy? Was it exported
thither by a Greek merchant to adorn the house of some rich provincial,
or—more probably—the country seat of a noble Roman? For the ruins of
Formiæ were the place of its discovery, and mayhap Cicero himself—the
baths of whose villa some think to trace in the grounds of the Villa
Caposele—was its whilom proprietor.

But, once recovered from the wrack of the antique world, it falls into
indignity, more grievous than its long inhumation through the rise and
fall of the mediæval world. It drifts, across fields of asphodel, to the
neighbouring Gaeta—the Gibraltar of Italy, the ancient _Portus Caeta_,
itself a town-republic of as many mutations and glories—and there,
stuck in the harbour mud, performs the function of a post to which boats
are fastened. Stalwart fishermen, wearing gold earrings, push off from
it with swarthy hands; bronzed women, with silver bodkins pinning in
their black hair with long coils of many-coloured linen, throw their
ropes over its pedestal. Year after year it lies in its ooze while the
sun rises and sets in glory on the promontory of Gaeta: it reeks of tar
and the smell of fishing-nets; brine encrusts its high-reliefs. The
clatter of the port drowns the hollow cry of memory that comes when it
is struck by an oar: there is the noise of shipping bales; the crews of
forth-faring argosies heave anchor with their ancient chant; the sails
of the galleons flap; the windlasses creak. Perchance a galley-slave,
flayed and fretted by chain and lash, draws up with grappled boat-hook,
and his blood flows over into Salpion’s vase.

And then a tide of happier fortune—perhaps the same that bore the
Sardinians to the conquest of Gaeta and the end of the war for Italian
independence—washes the vase from its harbour mud and deposits it in
the cathedral of Gaeta. The altar of Bacchus returns to sacerdotal uses:
only now it is a font, and brown Italian babies are soused in it, while
nurses in gilt coronets with trailing orange ribbons stand by, radiant.
Doubtless the priests and the simple alike read an angel into Mercury,
the infant Jesus into the child of Jupiter and Semele, and into the
nymph of Nysa the Madonna whose Immaculate Conception Pio Nono
proclaimed from this very Gaeta.

Its Bacchantes are now joyous saints, divinely uplifted. And why not? Is
not the Church of Santa Costanza at Rome the very Temple of Bacchus, its
Bacchic processions in mosaic and fresco unchanged? Did not the early
Church make the Bacchic rites symbolic of the vineyard of the faith, and
turn to angels the sportive genii? Assuredly Salpion’s vase is as
Christian as the toe of Jupiter in St. Peter’s, as the Roman basilicæ
where altars have usurped the ancient judgment-seat, as the Pantheon
wrested from the gods by the saints. Nay, its Bacchic relief might have
been the very design of a Cinquecento artist for a papal patron, the
figures serving for saints, even as the Venetian ladies in all their
debonair beauty supplied Tintoretto and Titian with martyrs and holy
virgins, or as the beautiful, solemn-robed, venerable-bearded Bacchus on
another ancient vase, which stands in the Campo Santo of Pisa, served
Niccolo Pisano for the High Priest of his pulpit reliefs.

Outside Or San Michele in Florence you may admire the Four Holy
Craftsmen, early Roman Christians martyred for refusing to make Pagan
deities. They had not yet learned to baptize them by other names.

And now Salpion’s vase has reached the Museum, that cynosure of
wandering tourists. But it belongs not truly to the world of glass
cases: it has not yet reached museum-point. It is of the Exhibition: not
of the Museum proper, which should be a collection of antiquities. Other
adventures await it, dignified or sordid. For museums themselves die and
are broken up. Proteus had to change his shape; Salpion’s vase has no
need of external transformations. Will it fume with incense to some yet
unknown divinity in the United States of Africa, or serve as a spittoon
for the Fifth President of the Third World-Republic?

O the passing, the mutations, the lapse, the decay and fall, and the
tears of things! Yet Salpion’s vase remains as beautiful for baptism as
for Pagan ritual; symbol of art which persists, stable and sure as the
sky, while thoughts and faiths pass and re-form, like clouds on the
blue.

And out of this flux man has dared to make a legend of changelessness,
when at most he may one day determine the law of the flux.

Everything changes but change. Yet man’s heart demands perfections—I
had almost said petrifactions—perfect laws, perfect truths, dogmas
beyond obsolescence, flawless leaders, unsullied saints, knights without
fear or reproach; throws over its idols for the least speck of clay, and
loses all sense of sanctity in a truth whose absoluteness for all time
and place is surrendered.

Yet is there something touching and significant in this clinging of man
to Platonic ideals: the ruder and simpler he, the more indefectible his
blessed vision, the more shining his imaged grail. And so in this
shifting world of eternal flux his greatest emotions and cravings have
gathered round that ideal of eternal persistence that is named God.


                                   IV

There are two torrents that amaze me to consider—the one is Niagara,
and the other the stream of prayer falling perpetually in the Roman
Catholic Church. What with masses and the circulating exposition of the
Host, there is no day nor moment of the day in which the praises of God
are not being sung somewhere: in noble churches, in dim crypts and
underground chapels, in cells and oratories. I have been in a great
cathedral, sole congregant, and, lo! the tall wax candles were lit, the
carven stalls were full of robed choristers, the organ rolled out its
sonorous phrases, the priests chaunted, marching and bowing, the censer
swung its incense, the bell tinkled. Niagara is indifferent to
spectators, and so the ever-falling stream of prayer. As steadfastly and
unremittingly as God sustains the universe, so steadfastly and
unremittingly is He acknowledged, the human antiphony answering the
divine strophe. There be those who cannot bear that Niagara should fall
and thunder in mere sublimity, but only to such will this falling
thunder of prayer seem waste.

Yet as I go through these innumerable dark churches of Italy, these
heavy, airless glooms, heavier with the sense of faded frescoes and
worm-eaten pictures, and vaults and crypts, and mouldering frippery and
mildewed relics, and saintly bones mocked by jewelled shroudings, and
dim-burning oil-lamps—the blue sky of Italy shut out as in a pious
perversity—and more, when I see the subjects of the paintings and
gravings, these _Crucifixions_ and _Entombments_ and _Descents from the
Cross_, varied by the mimetic martyrdoms of the first believers, it is
borne in on me depressingly how the secret of Jesus has been darkened,
and a doctrine of life—“Walk while ye have the light . . . that ye may
be the children of light”—has been turned to a doctrine of death. St.
Sebastian with his arrows, St. Lawrence with his gridiron, are, no
doubt, sublime spectacles; but had not the martyr’s life been noble, and
had he not died for the right to live it, his death would have been
merely ignominious. The death of Socrates owes its value to the life of
Socrates. Many a murderer dies as staunchly, not to speak of the noble
experimenters with Röntgen rays, or the explorers who perish in polar
wastes, recording with freezing fingers the latitude of their death.

Painting half obeyed, half fostered this concentration on the Passion,
with its strong lights and shadows. Indeed, the artistic strength of the
mere story is so tremendous that it has wiped out the message of the
Master and thrown Christianity quite out of perspective. Tintoretto’s
frescoes in San Rocco—indeed, most sacred pictures—are like a
picture-book for the primitive. (_Picturæ sunt idiotarum libri._) The
anecdotal Christ alone survives. And the painters were the journalists,
the diffusers and interpreters of ideas.

The true Christ was crucified afresh in the interests of romance and the
pictorial nude. Crivelli painted with unction the fine wood and the
decorative nails of the Cross; even the winding-sheet is treated by
Giulio Clovio for its decorative value. Where in all these galleries and
legends shall we find the living Christ, the Christ of the parables and
the paradoxes, the caustic satirist, the prophet of righteousness, the
lover of little children? The living Christ was overcast by the livid
light of the tomb. He was buried in the Latin of the Church, while every
chapel and cloister taught in glaring colour the superficial dramatic
elements, and Calvaries were built to accentuate it, and men fought for
the Cross and swore by the Holy Rood, and collected the sacred nails and
fragments of the wood and thorns of the crown.

The Sacro Catino of Genoa Cathedral once held drops of the blood; a
chapel of marble and gold at Turin still preserves in the glow of
ever-burning lamps the Santo Sudario, or Holy Winding-sheet. Strange
mementoes of the _plein air_ Prophet who drew his parables and metaphors
from the vineyard and the sheepfold! The Santo Volto for which pilgrims
stream to Lucca is not the holy face of loving righteousness, but a
crucifix miraculously migrated from the Holy Land and preserved in a toy
_tempietto_. Of the fifteen mysteries of the Roman Catholic Rosary, five
are of Birth, five of Death, five of Glory. But none are of Life. There
are also the rosaries of the Five Wounds and the Seven Dolors.

No doubt the majestic and sombre symbolism of the Cross owed its power
over gross minds to its very repudiation of the joy of life, but the
soul cannot healthily concentrate on death, nor can “Holy Dying” replace
“Holy Living.” Those early purple and gold mosaics of the Master with
His hand on the Book of Life, placed over altars—as in the cathedral of
Pisa—taught, for all their _naïveté_, the deeper lesson: “Ego sum lux
mundi.” The rude stone sculptures on the portals of Parma Baptistery
depict a Christ grotesque in a skull-cap, yet active in works and words
of love, and Duccio’s panels on that reredos in Siena in the dawn of
Italian art equally emphasise the life of Christ, and not its mere
ending. In fact, the earlier the art the less the insistence on darkness
and death. The Christians of the Catacombs, for whom death and darkness
were daily realities, turned all their thoughts to light and life. They
enjoyed their crypts more than the Christians of to-day enjoy their
cathedrals. “_The Acts of the Apostles_,” says Renan in his _St. Paul_,
“are a book of joy.” It was the later ages, which found the battle won,
that took an artistic and morbid pleasure in depicting martyrdoms and
created those pictorial concepts that tend to caricature Christianity.
It is worth remarking that Tempesta, who brought pictorial martyrology
to its disgusting climax in S. Stefano Rotondo at Rome, came so late
that he lived to see the eighteenth century in. A pity that temporary
necessities of martyrdom among the early Christians lent colour to the
misconception of Christianity as a religion of death. Toleration or
triumph robbed the saint of his stake, and left to him a subtler and
severer _imitatio Christi_. Buried so long beneath his own Cross, the
true Christ will rise again—to the cry of “Ecce Homo!”

On that day the teaching of Arius as to the originate nature of Christ,
or the modal trinitarianism of Sabellius by which the same God
manifested Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, may cease to be a
heresy, or Joachim of Flora’s expectation of a Super-Gospel of the
Spirit may find transformed fulfilment. For if Christianity has a
future, that future belongs, not to its dogmas, but to its heresies, the
thought of the great souls who, instead of receiving it passively,
wrestled for themselves with its metaphysical and spiritual problems,
and passed through the white fires and deep waters of the cosmic
mystery. There is scarcely a heresy but will better repay study than the
acrid certainties of St. Bernard or the word-spinnings of Athanasius
triumphant _contra mundum_.

Art is, indeed, not sparing of the resurrected Christ who rules in
glory, such as He whose majestic figure dominates and pervades St.
Mark’s; but this Christ who presides in so many pictures at the Last
Judgment, His foot on the earth-ball, His angel-legions round Him, and
who, indeed, in some is actually represented as creating Adam or giving
Moses the Law; this Christ who—by a paradoxical reversion to the Pagan
need for a human God—has superseded His Father with even retrospective
rights, is still further removed than the crucified Christ from the
Christ of life.

This apotheosis, how inferior in grandeur to his true presidence over
the centuries that followed his death! And this death, how infinitely
more tragic than the conventional theory of it! Naught that man has
suffered or man imagined, no Dantesque torture nor Promethean agony, can
equal the blackness of that ninth hour when “Jesus cried with a loud
voice, saying, _Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?_” Where be the twelve
legions of angels, where the seat for the Son of Man at the right hand
of power? Why this mockery, this excruciation?

Purblind must be the dry-as-dust who can read this passage and doubt
that Jesus was an historical person. As if, despite Psalm xxii, the
writers of Matthew and Mark could have invented so wonderful a touch, or
would, had they understood its full import, have inserted so flagrant a
contradiction of the Christian concept—a contradiction that can only be
counteracted by an elaborate theory of _kenosis_. The dying cry of Jesus
stamps him with authenticity, as the complaints of the Israelites
against their leader guarantee Moses and the Exodus.

What a colossal theme—Ormuzd broken by Ahriman, the incarnation of
light and love agonising beneath the heel of the powers of darkness and
goaded into the supreme cry: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken
me?” I have seen only one _Crucifixion_ that adequately renders this
dreadful moment—the supreme loneliness, the unrayed blackness—for most
_Crucifixions_ are populated and bustling, like Tintoretto’s or
Altichieri’s or Foppa’s or Spinello Aretino’s, or that congested canvas
of the brothers San Severino, when they are not also like Michele da
Verona’s, a translation of the tragedy into a Carpaccio romance of
trumpeters and horsemen and dogs and lovely towered cities and mountain
bridges, not to mention the arms of the magnificent Conte di Pitigliano.
But what painter it is who has caught the true essence and quiddity of
the Crucifixion I cannot remember, nor haply if I saw his picture in
Spain and not in Italy, nor even if I dreamed it.

Lucas Van der Leyden and Van Dyck give us the lonely figure, but in
Italian art before our own day I can only recall it in an obscure
picture of the Parmese school, and in a small painting of the
eighteenth-century Venetian, Piazzetta. Tura’s impressive, sombre study
is only a fragment of a stigmata picture. Guido Reni suggests the
loneliness, but he leaves the head haloed and melodramatic, besides
sketching in shadowy accessories. A nineteenth-century Italian, Giocondo
Viglioli, places the lonely Christ against the shadowy background of the
roofs and towers of Jerusalem. But the picture I have in my mind is
Rembrandtesque, the blacks heaviest at the figure in the centre, who,
unillumined even by a halo, uncompanioned even of thieves, hangs nailed
upon a lonely cross in a vast deserted landscape. For Jesus at this
tremendous moment is alone—however vast the crowd—alone against the
universe, and this universe has turned into a darkness that can be felt;
felt as a torment of body as well as a shattering of the spirit.

When I looked upon the myth of Psyche in the Villa Farnesina at Rome as
designed by Raphael, it was borne in on me how the primitive Greek,
penetrated by the certainty and beauty of his body, had made the world
and the gods in its image. But the race of Jesus, evolved to a higher
thought, had demanded that the universe should answer to its soul.
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” asks Abraham severely
of God in another epochal passage of the Bible. And now here is a scion
of Abraham who has staked his all upon the innermost nature of things
being one with his own, upon a universe aflame with love and
righteousness and pity, and lo! in this awful hour it seems to reveal
itself as a universe full of mocking forces, grim, imperturbable, alien.
It is an epic moment—the tragedy not only of Jesus, but of man soaring
upwards from the slime—

        “Such splendid purpose in his eyes”

—and finding in the cosmos no correspondence with his vision. Nor could
Jesus, who had outgrown the notion of a heavenly despot, even find the
satisfaction of the Prometheus of Æschylus:

        “You see me fettered here, a god ill-starred,
         The enemy of Zeus, abhorred of all
         That tread the courts of his omnipotence,
         Because of mine exceeding love for men.”

Yet in a sense the despair of Jesus was unwarranted. The universe had
not forsaken him; it contained, on the contrary, the media for his
eternal influence. On the physical plane, indeed, it could do nothing
for him; crucifixion must kill or the cosmos must change to chaos. But
on the spiritual plane he could neither be killed nor forsaken.
Infinitely less tragic his death than that of Napoleon, of whom we might
say, in the words of Sannazaro,

        “Omnia vincebas, superabas omnia Cæsar,
         Omnia deficiunt, incipis esse nihil.”

It was Moses who more voluntarily than Jesus offered his life that the
equilibrium of this righteous universe should not be shaken. “Ye have
sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I
shall make an atonement for your sin.” And the atonement offered ran:
“Blot me, I pray Thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written.” Here,
then, in the Old Testament, and not in the New, first appears the notion
of vicarious atonement. But the Old Testament sternly rejects it;
“Whoever hath sinned against Me, him will I blot out of My book.” Beside
which trenchant repudiation the Christian reading of the Old Testament
as a mere prolegomenon to the Crucifixion, an avenue to Calvary strewn
with textual finger-posts, appears a more than usually futile word-play
of the theological mind. One might, indeed, more easily discover the
germ of the atonement idea in Iphigenia. And that the Greek mind had
spiritualised itself—even before it contributed the _logos_ to
Christianity—is obvious not only from its literature and its Orphic and
Eleusinian mysteries, but from its art. For the Hellenic art of Raphael
was, after all, only the Renaissance view of Hellas, and the Greek myths
in his hands were merely a charming Pagan poetry, no truer to the
Hellenism of the great period than was the “Endymion” or “Hyperion” of
Keats. How can I look at the statue of Apollo in this same Museum of
Naples and not see that the very type of Christ had been pre-figured? I
mean the Christ with the haunting eyes and the long ringlets, for this
Apollo is a nobler figure by far than the Christ of the Byzantine
mosaics. And I am not the first to remember that Apollo is the Son of
Zeus the Father.

It is very strange. The Greeks, beginning with a Nature-religion, come
in the course of the centuries to find it inadequate and to yearn for
something beyond—

        “Tendebantque manus ulterioris ripæ amore.”

The Nature-religion, therefore, gradually replaces itself by a Jewish
heresy, expounded in Greek, largely influenced by Greek Alexandrian
philosophy, and organised by a Greek-speaking tent-maker of Jerusalem
named Saul or Paul, who, shutting out infinity with a tent, after the
fashion of his craft, left a Church where he had found a Christ. Some
fourteen centuries later old Greek thought is rediscovered, and operates
as the great liberator of the mind from the constriction of this Church
which has obscured and overgloomed Nature. But only subconscious of
itself, this movement back to Nature, this renewed _joie de vivre_,
finds its expression in the adornment of altars for the worship of
sorrow, and under the ribs of death a new soul of loveliness is created
that can vie with the art of the Greeks. And finally this new
Nature-worship grows conscious again of its inadequacy to the soul of
man, there is a Reformation and a Counter-Reformation, and then both are
outgrown and humanity stands to-day where the old Greeks stood at the
dawn of Christianity. The wheel has come full circle. And meantime the
original Mosaic cult stands unmoved by these two millenniums of heresy,
unbroken by the persecution, still patiently awaiting the day when “God
shall be One and His Name One.” What are the fantasies of literature to
the freaks and paradoxes of the World-Spirit?


                                   V

It is as the Bambino that Christ chiefly _lives_ in Art, and at this
extreme, too, we miss his true inwardness. Yet the tenderness of the
conception of the Christ-babe makes atonement. What can be more touching
than Gentile da Fabriano’s enchanting altar-piece of the _Adoration of
the Magi_, in which—even as the glamorous procession of the Three Kings
resteeps the earth in the freshness and dew of the morning—the
dominance of holy innocence seems to bathe the tired world in a wistful
tenderness that links the naïve ox and ass with the human soul and all
the great chain of divine life.

The Christ-child, held in his mother’s arms, lays his hand upon the
kneeling Magi’s head, yet not as with conscious divinity: ’tis merely
the errant touch of baby fingers groping out towards the feel of things.
No lesson could be more emollient to rude ages, none could better serve
to break the pride and harshness of the lords of the earth. “A slave
might be elder, priest, or bishop while his master was catechumen,” says
Hausrath of the early days of Christianity. Yet this delicious and
yearning vision of a sanctified and unified cosmos remains a dream;
futile as a Christmas carol that breaks sweetly on the ear and dies
away, leaving the cry of the world’s pain undispossessed. It was
precisely in Christian Rome that slavery endured after all the other
Great Powers of Europe had abolished it.

Nay, were the dream fulfilled it could not undo the centuries of harsh
reality. Here in Naples, under the providence of a kindly English
society, the wretched breed of horses, whose backs were full of sores,
whose ribs were numerable, have been replaced by a sleek stock,
themselves perhaps soon to be replaced by the unsentient motor. But what
Motor Millennium can wipe out the ages of equine agony?

And despite the Christ-child and the Christ crucified, nowhere does the
triumph of life run higher than in this sunny land of religious gloom,
Mantegna’s conversion of the babe into a young Cæsar being a true if
unconscious symbol of what happened to the infant. Flourishing the
forged _Donation of Constantine_ to prove its claim to the things that
were Cæsar’s, it grew up into that “Terrible Pontiff” whose bronze
effigy by Michelangelo was so aptly cast into a cannon, and whose
Christian countenance you may see in the Doria Gallery at Rome; or into
that Borgian monster who was to bombard a fortress on Christmas Day, and
who, crying joyfully, “We are Pope and Vicar of Christ,” hastened to don
the habit of white taffeta, the embroidered crimson stola, the shoes of
ermine and crimson velvet. God might choose to be born in the poorest
and worst-dressed circles of the most unpopular People, but the lesson
was lost. His worshippers insisted on thrusting Magnificence back upon
Him. Or perhaps it was their own Magnificence that they were protecting
against His insidious teaching. Consider their cathedrals, built less in
humility than in urban emulation—the Duomo of Florence to be worthy of
the greatness, not of God, but of the Florentines; S. Petronio to
eclipse it to the greater glory of Bologna; Milan Cathedral to surpass
all the churches in Christendom, as Giangaleazzo’s palace surpassed all
its princely dwellings. In whose honour did the Pisans encircle their
cathedral with a silver girdle, or the Venetians offer ten thousand
ducats for the seamless coat? Poor Babe, vainly didst thou preach to
Italy’s great families, when in humble adoration of thee they had
themselves painted in thy blessed society, the Medici even posing to
Botticelli as the Three Magi, and thrusting their magnificence into thy
very manger.

And in our own northern land the ox, companion of the manger, for whose
fattening at Christmastide St. Francis said he would beg for an imperial
edict, is fattened indeed, but merely for the Christmas market, stands
with the same pathetic eye outside the butcher’s shop, labelled “Choose
your Christmas joint,” and the clown and pantaloon come tumbling on to
crown the sacred birthday.

Alas! history knows no miracles of transformation. Evolution, not
revolution, is the law of human life. In Santa Claus’s stocking what you
shall truly find is traces of earlier feasts. The Christian festival
took over, if it transformed to higher import, the Saturnalia of earlier
religions and natural celebrations of the winter solstice. Holly does
not grow in Palestine; the snowy landscapes of our Christmas cards are
scarcely known of Nazareth or Bethlehem; mince-pie was not on the menu
of the Magian kings; and the Christmas tree has its roots in Teutonic
soil. But even as the painters of each race conceived Christ in their
own image, so does each nation unthinkingly figure his activities in its
own climatic setting. And perhaps in thus universalising the Master the
peoples obeyed a true instinct, for no race is able to receive lessons
from “foreigners.” The message, as well as the man, must be translated
into native terms—a psychological fact which missionaries should
understand.

Nor is it in the Palestine of to-day that the true environment of the
Gospels can best be recovered, for, though one may still meet the
shepherd leading his flock, the merchant dangling sideways from his ass,
or Rebeccah carrying her pitcher on her shoulder, that is not the
Palestine of the Apostolic period, but the Palestine of the patriarchs,
reproduced by decay and desolation. The Palestine through which the
Galilæan peasant wandered was a developed kingdom of thriving cities and
opulent citizens, of Roman roads and Roman pomp. Upon those bleak
hill-sides, where to-day only the terraces survive—the funereal
monuments of fertility—the tangled branchery of olive groves lent magic
to the air. That sea of Galilee, down which I have sailed in one of the
only two smacks, was alive with a fleet of fishing vessels. Yes, in the
palimpsest of Palestine ’tis an earlier writing than the Christian that
has been revealed by the fading of the later inscriptions of her
civilisation. And even where, in some mountain village, the rainbow-hued
crowd may still preserve for us the chronology of Christ, a bazaar of
mother-o’-pearl mementoes will jerk us rudely back into our own era.
But—saddest of all!—the hands of Philistine piety have raised churches
over all the spots of sacred story. Even Jacob’s well is roofed over
with ecclesiastic plaster; incongruous images of camels getting through
church porches to drink confuse the historic imagination. Churches are
after all a way of shutting out the heavens, and the great open-air
story of the Gospels seems rather to suffer asphyxiation, overlaid by
these countless chapels and convents. Is it, perhaps, allegorical of the
perversion of the Christ-teaching?

The humanitarian turn given to Yuletide by the genius of Dickens was at
bottom a return from the caricature to the true concept. Dickens
converted Christmas to Christianity. But over large stretches of the
planet and of history it is Christianity that has been converted to
Paganism, as the condition of its existence. Russia was baptized a
thousand years ago, but she seems to have a duck’s back for holy water.
And even in the rest of Europe upon what parlous terms the Church still
holds its tenure of nominal power! What parson dares speak out in a
crisis, what bishop dares flourish the _logia_ of Christ in the face of
a heathen world? The old gods still govern—if they do not rule. Thor
and Odin, Mars and Venus—who knows that they do not dream of a return
to their ancient thrones, if, indeed, they are aware of their exile.
Their shrines still await them in the forests and glades; every rock
still holds an altar. And do they demand their human temples, lo! the
Pantheon stands stable in Rome, the Temple of Minerva in Assisi, Paestum
holds the Temples of Ceres and Minerva, and on the hill of Athens the
Parthenon shines in immortal marble. Their statues are still in
adoration, and how should a poor outmoded deity understand that we
worship him as art, not as divinity? It does but add to his confusion
that now and anon prayers ascend to him as of yore, for can a poor
Olympian, whose toe has been faith-bitten, comprehend that he has been
catalogued as pope or saint? Perchance some drowsing Druid god, as he
perceives our scrupulous ritual of holly and fir-branch, imagines his
worship unchanged, and glads to see the vestal led under the mistletoe
by his officiating priest. Perchance in the blaze of snapdragon some
purblind deity beholds his old fire-offerings, and the savour of turkey
mounts as incense to his Norse nostrils. Shall we rudely arouse him from
his dream of dominion, shall we tell him that he and his gross ideas
were banished two millenniums ago, and that the world is now under the
sway of gentleness and love? Nay, let him dream his happy dream; let
sleeping gods lie. For who knows how vigorously his old lustfulness and
blood-thirst might revive; who knows what new victims he might claim at
his pyres, were he clearly to behold his power still unusurped, his
empire still the kingdom of the world?



                   THE CARPENTER’S WIFE: A CAPRICCIO


                       “Habent sua fata—feminæ.”

Although the Pilgrims’ Way is a shady arcade, yet the ascent from
Vicenza was steep enough to be something of a penance that sultry spring
evening, and I was weary of the unending pillars and the modern yet
already fading New Testament frescoes between them. But I was interested
to see which parish or family had paid for each successive section, and
what new name for the Madonna would be left to inscribe upon it. For
even the Litany of Loreto seemed exhausted, and still the epithets
poured out—“_Lumen Confessorum_,” “_Consolatrix Viduarum_,” “_Radix
Jesse_,” “_Stella Matutina_,” “_Fons Lachrymarum_,” “_Clypeus
Oppressorum_”—a very torrent of love and longing.

At last as I neared the summit of the Way, a fresco flashed upon me the
meaning of it all—an “Apparitio B.M.V. in Monte Berico, 1428,”
representing the Virgin in all her radiant beauty appearing to an old
peasant-woman. So this it was that had raised this long religious road
to the Church of Our Lady of the Mountain! I remembered the inscription
in S. Rocco, telling how 30,000 men had pilgrimed here in
1875—“spectaculum mirum visu.”

But where was the church that had been built over the spot of the
Madonna’s appearance? I looked up and sighed wearily. I was only
half-way up, I saw, for the road turned sharply to the right, and a new
set of names began, and a new set of frescoes—still cruder, for I
caught sight of nails driven into the Cross through the writhing frame
of the Christ. But even my curiosity in the cornucopia of epithets was
worn out. The corner had a picturesque outlook, and on the hill-side a
bench stood waiting. Vicenza stretched below me, I could see the
Palladian palaces admired of Goethe, the Greek theatre, the Colonnades,
the Palace of Reason with its long turtle-back roof; and, beyond the
spires and campaniles, the gleam of the Venetian Alps. A church-bell
from below sounded for “Ave Maria.” I sat down upon the bench and
abandoned myself to reverie. Why should not the Madonna appear to _me_?
I thought. Why this preference for the illiterate? And then I remembered
that this very Pilgrims’ Way had served as a battle-ground for the
Austrians and the poor Italians of ’48. How these Christians love one
another! I mused. And so my mind’s eye flitted from point to point,
seeing again things seen or read—in that inconsequent phantasmagoria of
reverie—to the pleasant droning of the vesper bell. Presently, telling
myself it was getting late, I arose and continued my ascent to the
Church of Our Lady of the Mountain.

                 *        *        *        *        *

But I looked in vain, as I came up the hill, for the inscriptions and
the frescoes. The sun was lower in the west, but the sunshine had grown
even sultrier, the sky even bluer, the road even steeper and rougher,
and it was leading me on to a gay-flowering plain lying in a ring of
green hills amid the singing of larks and the cooing of turtle-doves.
And on this plain I saw arising, not the church of my quest, but a
far-scattered village, whose small square, primitive houses would have
seemed ugly had their roofs not been picturesque with storks and pigeons
and their walls embowered in their own vines and fig-trees and absorbed
into the pervasive suggestion of threshing-floors and wine-presses and
rural felicity. By a central fountain I could perceive a group of
barefoot maidens, each waiting her turn with her water-jar. They seemed
gaily but lightly clad, in blue and red robes, with bracelets gleaming
at their wrists and strings of coins shining from their faces.

Anxious to learn my whereabouts, yet shy of intruding upon this girlish
group, I steered my footsteps towards one who, her urn on her shoulder,
seemed making her way by a side-track towards a somewhat lonely house on
the outskirts, overbrooded by the brow of a hill. She was brown-skinned,
I saw as I came near, very young, but of no great beauty save for her
girlish grace and the large lambent eyes under the arched black
eyebrows.

“Di grazia?” I began inquiringly.

“Aleikhem shalôm,” tripped off her tongue in heedless answer. Then, as
if grown conscious I had said something strange, she paused and looked
at me, and I instinctively became aware she was a Hebrew maiden. Yet I
had still the feeling that I must get back to Vicenza.

“How far is thy servant from the city?” I asked in my best Hebrew.

“From Yerushalaim?” she asked in surprise. “But it is many parasangs.
Impossible that thou shouldst arrive at Yerushalaim before the Passover,
even borne upon eagles’ wings. Behold the sun—the Sabbath-Passover is
nigh upon us.”

Ere she ended I had divined by her mispronunciation of the gutturals and
by the Aramaic flavour of her phrases that she was a provincial and that
I was come into the land of Canaan.

“What is this place?” I inquired, no less astonished than she.

“This is Nazara.”

“Nazara? Then am I in Galila?”

“Assuredly. Doubtless thou comest from the great wedding at Cana. But
thou shouldst have returned by way of Mount Tabor and the town of Endor.
Didst thou perchance see my mother at Cana?”

“Nay; how should I know thy mother?” I replied evasively.

She smiled. “Am I not made in her image? But overlong, meseems, have ye
all feasted, for it is two days since we expect my mother and brothers.”

“Shall thy servant not carry thine urn?” I answered uneasily.

“Nay, I thank thee. It is not a bowshot to my door. And,” she added with
a gentle smile, “my brothers do not carry my burdens; why should a
stranger?”

“And how many brothers hast thou?” I asked.

“Some are dead—peace be upon them. But there are four yet left
alive—nay,” she hesitated, “five. But our eldest hath left us.”

“Ah, he hath married a wife.”

She flushed. “Nay, but we speak not of him.”

“There must ever be one black sheep in a flock,” I murmured consolingly.

She brightened up. “So my brother Yakob always says.”

“And Yakob should speak with authority on the colour of sheep, and not
as the scribes.” I laughed with forced levity.

Her brow wrinkled thoughtfully. “Doubtless Yeshua is possessed of a
demon,” she said. “One of our sisters, Deborah, was likewise a
Sabbath-breaker, but now that she is old, having nineteen years and
three strong sons, she is grown more pious than even our uncle Yehoshuah
the Pharisee.”

“Lives she here?”

“Ay, yonder, near my mother’s sister, the wife of Halphaï.”

She pointed towards a battlemented roof, but my eyes were more concerned
with her own house, at which we were just arriving. It was a one-storey
house, square and ugly like the others, redeemed by its little garden
with its hedge of prickly pear, though even this garden was littered
with new-made wheels and stools and an olive-wood table.

“Halphaï is gone up for the Passover,” she added. She stopped abruptly.
The tinkle of mule-bells was borne to us from a steep track that came to
join our slower pathway.

“Lo, my mother!” she cried joyfully; and placing her urn upon the
ground, she hastened down the narrow track. I moved delicately, yet not
without curiosity, to the flank of the hedge, and presently a little
caravan appeared, ambling gently, with the girl walking and chattering
happily by the side of her mother, who rode upon an ass. I noticed that
the woman, who was small and spare, listened but little to her
daughter’s eager talk, and seemed deaf to the home-coming laughter of
her four curly-headed sons, who rode their mules sideways, with their
legs dangling down like the fringes of their garments. Her shoulders
were sunk in bitter brooding, and when a sudden stumbling of her ass
made her raise her head mechanically to pull him up, I saw the shimmer
of tears in her large olive-tinted eyes. Certainly I should not have
called her made in the image of her daughter, I thought at that moment,
for the face was sorely lined, and under the cheap black head-shawl I
saw the greying hair that was still raven on her arched eyebrows. But
doubtless the burden of much child-bearing had worn her out, after the
sad fashion of Eastern women.

These reflections were, however, dissipated as soon as born, for a
little cry of dismay from the girl brought to my perception that it was
the forgotten water-jar that had caused the ass’s stumble, and that the
urn now lay overturned, if not shattered, amid a fast-vanishing pool.

The little mishap made her brothers smile. “Courage!” cried the eldest.
“Yeshua will fill it with wine instead.” At this all the four rustics
broke into a roar of merriment. The youngest, a mere beardless youth,
added in his vulgar Aramaic, “What one ass hath destroyed another will
make good.”

The little woman turned on him passionately. “Hold thy peace, Yehudah.
Who knows but that he did change the water into wine?”

“Let him come and do it here,” retorted the eldest. “Thou hast not
forgotten what befell when he essayed his marvels in Nazara. No mighty
works could he do here, albeit Shimeon and Yosé, inclining their ears to
Zebedee’s foolish wife, were ready to sit on his right and left hand in
the Kingdom.”

The two young men who had not yet spoken looked somewhat foolish.

“He laid his hand upon sick folk and healed them,” one said in apology.

“How many?” queried young Yehudah scornfully. “And how many are alive
to-day? Nay, Shimeon, if he be Messhiach let him heal us of these Roman
tyrants—not go about with their tax-farmers!”

“Peace, Yehudah!” The little mother looked round nervously, and a fresh
terror came into those tragic eyes. There was something to me deeply
moving in the sight of that shrinking little peasant-woman surrounded by
these strong, tall rustics whom she had borne and suckled.

“Let Yeshua hold his peace!” answered the lad angrily, “and not prate
about rendering unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s. But, God be
thanked, a greater Yeshua hath arisen—Ben Abbas—a true patriot, who
one day——”

“Aha! Behold my flock at last!” Startled by this sudden new angry voice,
I glanced over the hedge, and saw standing on the doorstep cut in the
rock, with a hammer in his horny hand, a big red-bearded peasant with
bushy eyebrows. “These two days, Miriam, have I awaited thee.”

The little woman slid meekly off her ass. “But, Yussef,” she said
mildly, “thou saidst thou wouldst go up for the Paschal sacrifice!”

“And how could I go up to the Holy City with all this work to finish,
and not one of my four sons to carry my work to Sepphoris before the
Sabbath!” He glared at them as they began to lead their beasts behind
the garden. “Halphaï was sorely vexed that I did not company him and
join in his lamb-group. And the house is not even ready for Passover at
home; I shall be liable to the penalty of stripes.”

“I baked the mazzoth ere I departed,” his wife protested, “and Sarah
hath purged the house of leaven.” She patted her daughter’s head.

“Sarah?” he growled, reminded of a fresh grievance. “Sarah should have
had a husband of her own. But with these idle sons of mine, feasting and
merrymaking while I saw and plane, I cannot even save fifty zuzim for
her dowry.”

Sarah blushed and hastened to pick up her urn and carry it back to the
fountain.

“Nay, but we have tarried at Kephar Nahum,” said Yakob defensively, as
he disappeared.

The carpenter turned on his wife, his eyes blazing almost like his
beard. His hammer struck the table in the garden, denting it. “’Twas to
see thy loveling thou leftest home!”

The little mother went red and white by turns. “As my soul liveth,
Yussef, I knew not he would be at the wedding.”

“He was at the wedding?” he asked, softened by his surprise.

“Ay, he and his disciples.”

“Disciples!” The carpenter sniffed wrathfully. “A pack of fishers and
women, and that yellow-veiled Miriam from Magdala.”

“The Magdala woman was not there!” she murmured, with lowered eyes.

“She knew thy kinsman would not suffer her pollution. Ah, Miriam, what a
son thou hast brought into the world!”

Her eyes filled with tears. “Thou must not pay such heed to the
Sanhedrim messengers. In their circuit to announce the time of the New
Moon they gather up all the evil rumours of Galila. This Magdala woman
is repentant; her seven devils are cast out.”

“Miriam defends Miriam,” he said sarcastically. “But thou canst not say
I trained him not up in the way he should go. Learning could we not
afford to give him, but did not thine own brother, Jehoshuah ben
Perachyah, teach him Torah, and did I not teach him his trade? His
ploughs and yokes were the best in all Galila.”

“And now his followers say his homilies are the best,” urged the poor
mother.

“Homilies?” he roared. “Blasphemies! But were his Midraschim Holy Writ
itself, I agree with Ben Sameos (his memory for a blessing!) greater is
the merit of industry than of idle piety.”

“But why should he work?” cried Yakob, who with Yehudah now reappeared
from the stable. “Would that the wife of Herod’s steward followed _me_!”

“Or even that Susannah ministered to us with her substance!” added
Yehudah. “Then I too would teach, take no thought for the morrow!” And
he laughed derisively.

“He never took thought for anything save himself,” said Yussef, shaking
his head. “Dost thou not remember, Miriam, those three dreadful days
when he was lost, as we were returning from his Bar-Mitzvah in
Yerushalaim! God of Abraham, shall I ever forget thy heart-sickness! And
what was it he answered when we at length found him in the Temple with
the doctors? He was about his father’s business! He was assuredly not
about _my_ business.”

“The Sabbath and Passover are drawing nigh,” she murmured, and slipped
past her sons into the house.

“And what did he answer thee at Kephar Nahum?” her husband called after
her. “‘Who is my mother?’ The godless scoffer! The Jeroboam ben Nebat! I
thank the Lord _I_ did not try to bring him back home. He might have
asked, ‘Who is my father?’”

There was no reply, but I heard the nervous bustling of a broom. The
carpenter turned to Yakob.

“And what said he at Cana?”

“He demanded wine, he and his disciples!”

“Methought he was an Ebionite or an Essene!”

“Nay, as thou saidst, Yeshua was ever a law unto himself. But there was
no wine.”

“No wine?” cried Yussef. “So great a wedding company and no wine?
Methought the Chosan was rich enough to plant wine-booths all the way
from Cana to Nazara, like the Parnass of Sepphoris, and had as many gold
and silver vessels as the priests in the Temple.”

“True, my father, but Yeshua had brought with him that vile tax-farmer
Levi, who grinds the faces both of rich and poor, and, seeing the spying
publican, the bridegroom straightway bade the servants hide the precious
flagons and goblets, lest more taxes be squeezed out for the Romans.”

Yussef grinned knowingly. “And so poor Yeshua must go athirst.”

“Nay, but hear. When he clamoured for wine the servants wist not what to
do, and my mother said gently to him, ‘They have no wine.’ But Yeshua
turned upon her like a lion of Mount Yehudah upon a lamb, and he roared,
‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? My hour is not yet come to be a
Nazarite.’”

The carpenter chuckled. “Now she will know to stay at home. ‘Woman, what
have I to do with thee?’” he repeated with unction.

“Howbeit, my mother feared that his demon again possessed him, and she
besought the servants to do whatsoever he said unto them. But they still
held back. Then Yeshua, understanding what it was they feared, said,
‘Bring the water-pots.’ So they went out and brought the earthen pots
wherewith we had washed our hands for the meal—albeit Yeshua would not
wash his—and lo! they were full of wine.”

The carpenter repeated his knowing grin. “And Levi the publican—what
said he?”

“He was the first to cry ‘A miracle!’” laughed Yakob, “and
Shimeon-bar-Yonah held up his hands and cried, ‘Master of the Universe!
Now is Thy glory manifest!’”

Yussef joined in his son’s laugh. “Is not Shimeon the lake fisherman?”

“Yea, my father; him whom Yeshua calls the Rock.”

“The Rock, in sooth!” broke in fiery young Yehudah. “Say rather, the
Shifting Sand. It was from Shimeon I learned to be a Zealot, and now
this recreant Maccabæan is bosom friend of Roman tax-gatherers and
babbles of the keys of Heaven.”

“Babble not thyself, little one,” the father rebuked him. He turned to
Yakob. “And what said Yeshua after the wine?”

“When he beheld his disciples had drunk new faith in him, he too was
flown, and prophesied darkly that he would appear on the right hand of
power, with clouds of glory and twelve legions of angels, whereat my
mother feared that his madness was come upon him as of yore, and she
made us follow in his train as far as his lodging in Kephar Nahum. And
we spake privily to Yudas that he should watch over him till his unclean
spirit was exorcised.”

“Yudas!” cried Yussef. “What doth an honest Israelite like Yudas in such
company? But did I not foretell what would come of all these baptizings
of Rabbi Jochanan, all these new foolish sects with their white garments
and paddles and ablutions? Canaan is full of wandering madmen. The Torah
I had from my father, Eli—peace be upon him!—is holy enough for me,
and may God forgive me that I have not gone up to kill the Paschal
lamb.”

Yakob lowered his voice. “Thou wouldst have met the madman.”

“What! Yeshua is gone to Yerushalaim?”

“Sh! My mother knoweth naught. We spake him secretly as though
converted, saying, ‘Lo! we have seen this day how thou workest miracles.
But if thou do these things, show thyself to the world. Depart hence and
go into Yudæa, that men may see the works that thou doest.’ For there is
no man that doeth anything in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known
openly. So he is gone up to Yerushalaim!”

The malicious glee on Yakob’s face was reflected in his father’s. “Now
shall the mocker be mocked! Even thy learned uncle, Ben Perachyah, they
scoff at for his accent, nor will they let him read the prayers. How
much less, then, will they listen to Yeshua!”

“And the Pharisees hate him,” said Yakob, “because he hath called them
vipers, and the Shammaites for profaning the Sabbath; even the Essenes
for not washing his hands before meals.”

“And all the Zealots hold him a traitor!” cried Yehudah with flashing
eyes.

“Nor will the Sadducees or the Bœthusians listen to a carpenter’s son,”
added Yakob laughingly.

“Shame on thee, Yakob, for fouling thine own well!” And Sarah, returning
with her pitcher on her shoulder, went angrily within.

Yakob grew red. “And dost thou think the nobles of Yerushalaim who eat
off gold and silver will follow him like fishers?” he called after her.
“Say they not already, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazara?’”

“Yeshua is gone to Yerushalaim?” The little mother had dashed to the
door, her eyes wide with terror. The urn she had just taken from her
daughter fell from her trembling hand and shattered itself on the rocky
doorstep, splashing husband and son.

“Woman!” cried the carpenter angrily, “have more care of my substance!”

“Yeshua is gone to Yerushalaim!” she repeated frenziedly.

“Ay, like a good son of Israel. He hath gone up for the Paschal
sacrifice. Mayhap,” he added with his chuckle, “he will do wonders with
the blood of the lamb. Come, Miriam, let us change our garments and
anoint ourselves for the festival.”

He pushed the woman gently within the room, but she stood there as one
turned into a pillar of salt, and with an Eastern shrug he went in.

Presently Sarah came and wiped the steps with a clout and gathered up
the shards, and then, with a new pitcher on her shoulder, she bent her
steps towards the fountain.

I skirted round to meet her on her return, not a little to her
amazement; but this time she surrendered her burden to my entreaty,
though the ungainly manner in which I poised the pitcher lightened her
clouded brow with inner laughter.

“This wandering brother of thine,” I ventured to ask at length, “dost
thou think harm will befall him in Yerushalaim?”

Her brow puckered thoughtfully. “Perchance these strangers will believe
on him, not knowing as we do that he hath a demon. Yeshua was wroth with
us when he came, crying out that a man’s foes are those of his own
household, and a prophet is nowhere without honour save in his own
country. But how should Yeshua be able to work miracles more than Yakob
or Yehudah? When he stood up in our synagogue on the Shabbos to read and
expound the prophet Yeshaiah, his lips were touched with the same
burning coal—almost he persuaded me to be a heretic—but inasmuch as he
could do no miracles, all they in the synagogue were filled with wrath,
and rose up and thrust him out of the city.” She pointed to the brow of
the hill hanging over us. “Up there they led him, that they might cast
him down headlong. But out of compassion for my mother, who had followed
with the crowd, they let him go, and he returned to Kephar Nahum and
continued to make yokes and wheels for his livelihood.”

“And he still works there?”

“Nay, he neglected his craft to preach in the great synagogue built by
the centurion—indeed, it is a hot place for work down there by the
lake, neither is it so healthy as here in Nazara. Also he had free
lodging with the family of Shimeon-bar-Yonah whom they call Petros,
while Shalome, the wife of Zebedee, and other women tended him and
mended his garments. But his fever took him and he began to wander about
all Galila, teaching in the synagogues and preaching his strange
gospel?”

“What gospel?”

“How should a girl know? Some heresy anent the Kingdom. And there went
out a fame of him through all the region round about, and some said he
healed all manner of sickness, so that there followed him great
multitudes of people. But many came to us and said, ‘Alas! he is beside
himself.’ And the Messengers of the New Moon told us many strange tales,
so that my mother was nigh distraught, and when it was bruited that he
had said Kephar Nahum shall be thrust down to hell, she journeyed
thither, she and my brothers, to bring him home and watch over his
affliction. But lo! they could not lay hold of him, for he was
surrounded by such a press of people that they could not even come nigh
unto him. So she sent a message that his mother and brothers desired to
have speech of him. And he answered, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my
brothers?’ and he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples and
said, ‘Behold my mother and my brothers.’ So she returned home sorely
stricken, and put on mourning garments, and even the birth of her
grandchildren gave her no joy. But when came the marriage of her rich
kinsman in Cana my father would have her go, being weary of her weeping
and thinking to cheer her heart; but lo! her last state is worse than
her first, inasmuch as——” She broke off abruptly as we reached the
hedge of prickly pear. “But why have I told all this to a stranger?”

“Because I have none else with whom to eat the Passover,” I answered
boldly.

She turned and looked at me. Then, taking her pitcher from me with a
word of thanks, “I will tell my father,” she answered gravely.

I waited in the little garden, watching a patriarchal tortoise.
Presently the carpenter reappeared on the doorstep, a new man in festal
garment and mien, his head anointed with oil.

“Baruch Habaa!” he cried cordially. “Since I cannot go up to
Yerushalaim, Yerushalaim comes up to me.”

I followed him into the house, duly kissing the mezuzah as I went
through the door. The room was small and dark, with bare walls built of
little liver-coloured blocks of cemented stone, and the matted floor
seemed to hold less furniture than that which littered the garden. The
carpenter’s bench had been covered with cushions, and I could see that
the divan was used for a bed. Very humble was the house-gear, these
earthenware dishes and metal drinking-cups and brass candlesticks on the
Passover table, and I saw no ornaments save a few terra-cotta vases, a
Hebrew scroll or two, and a rudely painted coffer. The housewife, busy
at the hearth with the roasted egg and bone of the ritual, greeted me
with wistful eyes and lips that vainly tried to murmur or smile a
welcome, and I watched her deft mechanic movements as I sat lightly
gossiping with the males over the exegesis of the seventh chapter of
Yeshaiah. I told them that the Septuagint translator had darkened the
fourteenth verse by loosely rendering עלמה as παρθένος, or “virgin,”
instead of “maiden,” but this did not interest them, as they knew no
Greek. The room took a more cheerful air when the mother lit the Sabbath
candles with a blessing almost as inaudible as her welcome to me, and
soon my host began the Haggadah service by holding his hands over the
wine-goblet. But Yehudah asked the ritual question, “Why does this night
differ from all other nights?” with a touch of sarcasm, and interrupted
himself to cry passionately: “How can we celebrate our deliverance from
Egypt when the Roman Eagle hangs at the very door of our Temple?” At
this the little mother turned yet paler, and every eye glanced uneasily
towards the stranger.

“Nay, I am no friend of the Romans,” I said reassuringly.

Yehudah continued the formula sullenly. It was as I had always heard it,
save for the question, “Why is the meat all roasted and none sodden or
boiled?” But the father had scarcely begun his ritual reply when we
heard a loud knocking on the door, the latch was lifted, and in another
instant we saw a burly man panting on the threshold, and behind him,
more vaguely in the dusk, an agitated woman under a head-shawl.

“O Reb Yussef!” breathed the newcomer.

“Halphaï!” cried the carpenter in amaze. “Art not in Yerushalaim?”

The little mother had sprung to her feet.

“They have killed my Yeshua!” she shrieked.

“Sit down, woman!” said the carpenter sternly.

But she gestured to the figure in the rear: “Speak, my sister, speak.”

“Nay, _I_ will speak,” grumbled her sister’s husband. “Why else did I
take horse from the Holy City without hearing the Levites sing or the
trumpets blow for the blood-sprinkling? Thy Yeshua came up through the
Fountain Gate riding on an ass, and as one flown with new wine.”

“Yea, the wine of the water-pots!” laughed Yakob.

“And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut
down branches from the trees and strewed them in the way. And the
multitudes that went before and that followed cried, ‘Hosanna to the son
of David!’” He paused for breath, leaving this picture suspended, and I
saw a new light leap into the mother’s tragic eyes, a strange exaltation
as of a secret hope incredulously confirmed.

“In Yerushalaim?” she breathed. “They cry Hosanna in Yerushalaim?”

“Yea,” said her sister. “And Halphaï told me, even the little children
cried, ‘Hosanna to the son of David!’”

The carpenter was crumbling a mazzo with nervous fingers; an angry vein
swelled on his forehead. “And Pilatus permitted this?” he cried.

“Patience, Reb Yussef!” said Halphaï. “There is more to come. For,
growing yet more swollen in his presumption, Yeshua went to the Holy
Temple, and, entering the Court of the Gentiles, where sit those who
sell the sheep and the oxen and doves, instead of purchasing a sacrifice
for his sins, he drove them all out with a scourge of small cords and
poured out the changers’ money!”

Horror held the household dumb. I saw Halphaï look round complacently,
as though compensated for his hot ride to Nazara. “And ye know what
profit Hanan makes out of his bazaars,” he added significantly.

The mother was wringing her hands. “Hanan will never forgive him,” she
cried. “They will kill him as they killed Jochanan the Baptizer.”

“Peace, woman,” said Yussef impatiently. “The High Priest and the Elders
will but drive him from the city.”

“Nay, nay,” said Halphaï. “They hold him captive. And his disciples are
fled. All save Yudas, who led a multitude with swords and staves to find
him. And Shimeon-bar-Yonah too is taken, merely because his speech
betrayeth him as a Galilæan. How then should _I_ dare stay, who have the
ill-hap to be married to his mother’s sister!”

The little mother was moving towards the door. Her husband stopped her.
“Whither goest thou?”

“To saddle the ass. I must to Yerushalaim!”

“Thou!”

“Who else? Shall that yellow-veiled woman of Magdala give him comfort?”

“And will he take comfort from _thee_? Doth he not teach his followers
to hate their father and their mother? And doth he not scoff at the womb
that bare him?”

“Not he, but his demon,” she answered obstinately, and pressed forward
again.

His brow grew black. “But it is the Sabbath!”

“It is my first-born.”

“Thou speakest more foolishly than Job’s wife. Now we see whence Yeshua
sucked his blasphemies.”

“It is my first-born!” she repeated more frenziedly.

“Thy first-born! But did he keep to-day the Fast of the First-born?”

“Let her go, Yussef,” pleaded Halphaï. “As Rabbi Hillel taught (his
memory for a blessing), the Sabbath was handed to man, not man to the
Sabbath!”

“And the wife to the husband,” retorted Yussef, “not the husband to the
wife. I forbid thee, Miriam, to disturb the Passover peace. Go—and I
put thee away publicly!”

She blenched and sank back on the divan. “Peace?” she moaned. “Thou
callest this peace!”

“Obey thy lord, Miriam! _I_ will go.” And Halphaï’s wife stooped and
kissed her.

Miriam burst into loud sobs. She caught her sister to her breast, and
the two women mingled their tears.

The carpenter shrugged his shoulders. “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who
hast not made me a woman,” he said drily.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The walls of the little room seemed higher, the light stronger, the
prayer devouter, the company more numerous. Instead of the two little
Sabbath candles and the earthenware dishes, I saw a barbaric blaze of
gold and rich stuffs and jewels, and my eyes blinked before the flames
of tall candles shining in gold candlesticks on a magnificent altar, in
the niche of which stood a black cedar-wood idol, crowned and holding a
crowned doll, and wrapped in a marvellous ornate vestment widening out
like a bell. Over my head around the rough, liver-coloured stone walls
hung lamps and bronzes and candles held by Cupids, and gilded busts, and
medallions and hearts and bronze reliefs and pictures, and even a
cannon-ball, and at my feet surged the white head-shawls of prostrate
worshippers, like a great wave breaking on the crimson steps of the
altar.

And gradually I became aware that the room had now doors on the right
and the left, and these of bronze and wondrously wrought after the
fashion of the Renaissance, through which a stream of worshippers
poured, kissing the bronze as they passed in and out. And following one
stream and vaguely looking for Miriam and her husband and the Passover
table, I was borne back into the room, through another door, and now
found myself in a narrow and still more crowded space at the back of the
altar, where the gorgeous jewelled black idol with her doll stood in her
niche in the gleam of ever-burning silver lamps, and I saw a golden
eagle in a yellow sun flying over her head, and over the eagle two
gilded angels holding a glittering wreath, and still higher, through a
hole in the roof, as riding on clouds, a blue-mantled Mother and Child
among a soaring escort of angels, while near the floor I beheld a large
metal box with a yawning slit, into which a kneeling, weeping press of
people rained money.

“_Il Santo Camino, signore!_” said an ingratiating voice, and looking up
I perceived at my side a beadle with a wand.

“The holy kitchen?” I repeated in amaze.

“_Si, signore._ Here is the hearth at which the Madonna cooked for the
Holy Family.”

He pointed to the money-box, and I now indeed recognised the fireplace
whence Miriam had taken the roasted bone and egg. But it had moved to
another side of the living-room, unless I was confused by the altar
planted in the place of the Passover table.

“Then this is the house of Nazara?” I said in a whisper, for, dazed as I
was, I feared to disturb the worshippers.

“_Sicuro!_” He smiled reassuringly. “_La Santa Casa!_ Here the Holy
Family abode in the peace and love of the Holy Ghost. And here there is
Plenary Indulgence every day in the year. _Ecco!_ One of their pots!”
And he produced a terra-cotta vessel, not unlike one I had seen the
little olive-eyed woman wiping, save that it was lined with gold and
adorned with bas-reliefs of the Manger and the Annunciation.

“That must have cost money,” I murmured feebly.

“_Già_,” he assented complacently. “And behold the _Madonna Nera_,
carved by St. Luke. Her attire is worth 1,800,000 lire.”

“_Come?_” I gasped.

He spurned a sobbing peasant-woman with his foot and cleared a space
with his staff that he might plant me at the centre of the money-box.

“_Passi_,” he said pleasantly, seeing I hesitated to displace these
passionate souls. “Regard the jewels and precious stones of her robe,
the diamonds, emeralds, and pearls in her crown, the collars of Oriental
pearl, the rings, the crosses of topaz and diamonds, the Bambino’s
diamond necklace, the ring on his finger, the medallion with the great
diamonds given by the King of Saxony——” He trolled off the glittering
catalogue, on and on, in a joyous, dominant voice, to which the sighs
and groans of the worshippers made an undertone. Countesses and
Cardinals, Popes and Marchese had vied in dressing the idol, and
decorating the kitchen. “And you must see the Treasury,” he wound up.
“Gifts from all the royal houses of Europe to Our Lady of Loreto!”

“Loreto?” I repeated dully.

He looked at me sharply, as at a scoffer.

“But how did the Holy House get to Loreto?” I added hastily.

“It was carried by angels,” he answered simply.

“But when?”

“On the night of the tenth of December in the year 1294 from the bearing
of the Virgin.”

“Who saw it carried?”

“You are an Englishman,” he answered briefly. “You shall see it in
English.”

He made a path through the praying crowd, and I followed him without,
and my breath failed me as I became aware that the Holy House was
inclosed in a precious outer casing of marble, carved with beautiful
reliefs of the life and death of the Virgin, holding all round its four
lofty walls niches with statues of prophets and sybils and other
gleaming altars, each with its surf of worshippers, and that this
marvellous screen, so rich in the work of the Masters, was itself
engirdled by a vast high-domed church with rich-dyed windows, gilded
like a Venetian palace and full of arches and pillars and altars and
chapels and mosaics and statues and busts and thick-populated frescoes,
while from the centre of the choir windows a haloed Lady in a blue
mantle gazed down upon her white-hooded ghostly worshippers filling the
nave. And all around her from the interlacing of the arches and from the
painted walls haloes gleamed like a firmament of crescent moons.

“Behold there!” said the beadle, pointing with his staff, and I saw that
round the projecting base of the marble walls ran two deep parallel
furrows. “Worn in the stone by the knees of six centuries of pilgrims,”
he said pleasantly. “Of course there are not many to-day, being an
ordinary Sunday, but in the year there are a hundred thousand, and in
the season of the pilgrimages, or on the Feast of the Assumption——” An
expressive gesture wound up the sentence.

We passed along the aisles, just peeping into the copious chapels, all
pervaded by the ubiquitous Maria in picture or mosaic, in statue or
bas-relief—Maria Immaculate, Maria the Virgin, Maria the Mother of God,
Maria the Compassionate, Maria the Mediatress, Maria Crowned; and the
marriage of Maria, and her death, and the visit to Elizabeth, and the
Annunciation, and her family tree, and the disputes of the Sorbonne over
the dogmas concerning her. And as we walked the organ began pealing, and
priests and choristers chanted.

“_Ecco!_” cried the beadle, as he stopped in the left aisle and pointed
to a great black-framed slate between two altars. “In your own English!”

I looked and read the headline of white letters:

“The Wondrous Flitting of the Kirk of our Blest Ledy of Lavreto.”

Underneath ran in parallel columns these two sentences:

“By decree of the Meikle Werthy Monsignor Vincent Casal of Bolonia Ruler
of This Helly Place Vnder the protection of the Mest Werthy Cardinal
Moroni.”

“I Robert Corbington Priest of the Companie of Jesvs in the Zeir MDCXXXV
Heve Trvlie translated the premisses of the Latin Storie Hangged vp in
the seyd Kirk.”

And underneath these parallel statements were the words, “To the Praise
and Glorie of the Mest Pvre and Immaculate Virgin.”

Then began the story proper:

“The Kirk of Lavreto was a caumber of the hovse of the blest Virgin near
Jerusalem in the towne of Nazaret in which she was borne and treined vp
and greeted of the angel and hairin also Conceaved and norisht har sonne
Jesvs.”

My eye ran impatiently over these known details and lighted at a lower
point of the great dimly lit slate.

“Pavl de Sylva an eremyt of micle godliness, wha woned in a cell near by
this Kirk whair daily he went to mattins, seyd that for ten zeirs, one
the eight of September, twelve hovrs before day, he saw a light descend
frem heaven vpon it, whilk he said was by the bu weathair shawed har
selfe [_sic_] one the feest of har birth. In proof of all whilk twa
verteous men of the seyd towne of Recanah many times avowed to me Rvler
of Terreman and Govenor of the forseyd Kirk as followeth. Ane of them,
nemmed Pavle Renallvci, affirmed that his grandsyres grandsyre sawe when
the angels broght it over sea setting it in the forseyd wood and hed oft
frequented it thair, the other nemmed Francis Prior sicklik seyd that
his Grandsyre, being a hunder and twaintie zeirs awd hed also meikle
havnted it in the same place and for a mere svr testimony that it had
beine thair he reported that his grandsyres grandsyre hed a hovse beside
it wharin he dwelled and that in his dayes it was beared by the angels
frae thence to the hill of they tweye brothers whar they set it as
seyd. . . .”

“The angels seem to have carried it about more than once,” I
interrupted.

“_Già_,” said the beadle. “At first they placed it on the hill of
Picino, in a grove of laurels which bowed before it and remained in
adoration. But so many thieves and assassins took cover under them to
plunder the pious pilgrims of their offerings that the laurels raised
their heads again, and after a stay of only eight months the Holy House
moved.”

“And came here?”

“Not yet. It moved first to a pleasant hill belonging to the brothers
Artici, ancestors of Leopardi.”

“Ah, the hill of they tweye brothers,” I murmured.

“But the treasure heaped upon it dazzled them. They might have fought
over it like Cain and Abel. So the house moved on.”

“And yet even Leopardi chanted the Madonna,” I said.

“_Lo credo_,” said the beadle, unastonished. “And there is still an
inscription on the hill, but it does not console the neighbourhood any
more than the chapel at Ravinizza.”

“The chapel at Ravinizza?”

“Did I not say? That was where it stopped first—near Dalmatia.”

“Quite a wandering Jew-house,” I murmured.

“That was in 1291, when the Holy Land fell into the power of the
Infidel”

“Ah, that was why it left Palestine!”

“Naturally. And you may imagine the agony of the Dalmatians when they
returned from the Crusades to find the Holy House no longer in
Ravinizza. Even to-day the pilgrims sail out in little boats singing,
‘Return to us, Maria, with thy house!’ But how could it return to
Dalmatia, seeing that seventy-five years before it left Palestine the
blessed St. Francis had foretold its coming here by his word _Picenum_,
which is a region on our side of the Adriatic, and being, moreover,
interpreted by Latin scholars is a prophetic acrostic?”

“It seems a pity the house did not come straight to Loreto,” I ventured.

“We are fortunate it did not go straight back to Nazareth after the
battle of Lepanto,” he said simply. “It was after our Lady’s victory
over the Turks that this marble screen was placed around it. Here is the
Treasury.” And thrusting roughly through the press of congregants, he
opened a door and ushered me into a palatial room where under the
ceiling-frescoes of Pomerancio of Pesaro I saw what seemed a vast bazaar
of every precious article known to humanity.

“The New Treasury,” he said apologetically. “The old treasure was seized
by Napoleon. It was worth 96,000,000 lire.” He looked sad.

“And how much is this worth?”

“Only 4,000,000.” And the unctuous catalogue recommenced. “A Genoese
family had given this case of jewellery; it was worth 100,000 lire.
These were the copes and vestments of Pio Nono (150,000 lire). This was
the diadem of Maria, Queen of Spain, wife of Carlo IV—behold the
amethysts, the brilliants, the rubies. These Oriental pearls were from
the Princess of Würtemberg. Each pearl cost 150,000 lire and there were
forty-three pearls—the _signore_ could calculate for himself. This
diamond tiara with an Oriental pearl in the centre was given by Maria
Louisa, Duchessa di Parma. It was worth 420,000 lire.”

“Restoring some of her first husband’s plunder,” I interrupted.

“_Già._ And the _Madonna Nera_ was given back too. And this pearl and
gold covering for her is from Maria Theresa, Archduchess of Austria. It
is worth 12,000 lire. And Giuseppe Napoleon’s wife gave us this
monstrance. And this cup is from Prince Maximilian of Austria, and these
regalia——”

The list went on, and I studied a coral model of the _Santa Casa_ with
the Mother and Son riding on the roof, while from the church came a
boy’s voice soaring heavenward.

“And do you refuse offerings from those who are not royal?” I broke in
at last.

“Ah, no,” he said seriously. “See! In that glass case are a thousand
rings from a thousand pilgrims, and this standard is from a pilgrim of
Budapest, and this little wooden ship—the _Maria_—was given by a
sailor, and this pearl showing the Madonna and her Son was found inside
a fish by a fisherman, and these ornaments painted with the juice of
grass are the work of priests, and this beautiful bronze candelabrum was
given by the Guild of Blacksmiths of Bologna. A Capuchin father from
South America brought us these great bouquets of flowers made of the
wings of Brazilian birds, and a Roumanian noble this little Byzantine
brass Madonna, and Prince Carraciolo of Naples——”

“_Basta!_” I cried hurriedly, for he was back in the “Almanach de
Gotha,” and, slipping a large piece of silver with a royal portrait on
it into his hand, I moved towards the door.

His face shone. “But you have not seen the cups in the _Santa Casa_ from
which the Holy Family drank. And their little bells, and——”

“I have seen enough,” I said.

“And the cannon-ball,” he went on in undiminished gratitude. “The
cannon-ball which shattered the pavilion of Pope Julius II when he was
besieging a city, but which by the grace of the Blessed Virgin left him
un——”

I escaped into the crowd of snooded peasant women and worked my way
along the aisle till I stood outside the portal under a gigantic Madonna
and Child.

But the beadle was beside me.

“Go and look at the Fontana della Santa Casa.” And he pointed in parting
gratitude to the centre of the piazza. “_Bellissima!_”

I did not go, but I looked at the great marble fountain with its
grotesque beasts and Cupids and basins, and remembering the humble
village fountain at which the carpenter’s daughter had filled her urn, I
turned sharply to the right and found myself descending a long sordid
street of shops and stalls, all doing a busy trade—despite the
Sunday—in crosses, rosaries, crucifixes, chaplets, picture-postcards,
medals, and all the knick-knacks of holiness. Sometimes through open
windows of the ugly one-storey houses I caught sight of the landscape
below—the path descending to the sea, bordered with buttercups and
a-flutter with birds, the rolling olive-plains, the strip of blue sea,
the wonderful headland. Never had I seen a lovelier view shut out by
meaner buildings. With its patches of refuse and its dreary shops and
booths it seemed the ugliest street in all Italy, bearing on its face
the mark of its bastard origin—a city grown up not from natural healthy
human life, but for the exploitation of a miracle.

And this it was that drew gold like water from the crowned heads of
Europe. And this it was that had drawn hither even Descartes, the first
Apostle of Philosophic Doubt. Surely “_Non_ cogito, ergo sum,” is the
motto of Faith, I thought.

                 *        *        *        *        *

I stood in a vast ancient market-place among canvas-covered stalls, by a
lovely fountain with a smiling little Bacchus that faced an old
cathedral, and I gazed like ten thousand others at a lovely open-air
pulpit that rose in the shadow of a tall campanile. From a bronze
capital it rose, girdled with beautiful marble reliefs of dancing
children by Donatello and protected from the sun by a charming circular
roof, and in this delectable coign of vantage stood a priest holding
something that fevered the perspiring mob.

“_La sacra cintola! La sacra cintola!_”

I knew what the Virgin’s girdle would be like, for had I not seen her
handing it to St. Thomas in Lippo Lippi’s picture in this same town of
Prato, as she flew up to heaven in the radiance of her youth and beauty,
standing on cherubs’ heads and escorted by angels? But now so far as I
could see this tasselled belt, it seemed to correspond ill with the
waist measurement of the little mother of Nazara.

Some white pigeons fluttered round the priest’s head and settled on the
pulpit, and a great sigh of ecstasy went up from the people.

I looked round at the little Bacchus. But he was still smiling.

                 *        *        *        *        *

I stood before an altar in a little church, but this time a sweet-faced
woman in a wimple stood beside me.

“The wall is behind the altar,” she said. “And once a year the
miraculous image of the Madonna of the Bed is shown to the people of
Pistoja and the pilgrims, exactly as Our Lady of the Graces impressed it
on this piece of wall here when she appeared to the sick girl. Very
beautiful is she in her crown and mantle, clasping to her arms the
crowned Bambino as she flies upwards.”

“And where is the bed?”

“The bed was removed from this sanctuary, which it blocked up
disproportionately. A separate little chapel was built for it.”

We passed to the bed-chapel by way of the old cloisters of the Ospedale,
and saw in a small room a heavy brownish wooden bed with a red quilt,
made as for an occupant. A Madonna and Child was painted on the
headpiece, and a Madonna and Child at the foot, and a Madonna and Child
hung on the wall.

“And when was the miracle wrought?” I asked.

“In 1336.”

The very year of the death of Cino, the poet of Pistoja and the friend
of Dante, I remembered. And Dante and Cino had receded into the dim
centuries while this bed with its prosaic quilt and pillows stood
stolid, inscribed at head and foot with inscriptions dated 1336 and
1334, begging me to pray for the souls of Condoso Giovanni and Fra
Ducchio.

“Here,” explained the sweet-faced sister, “the poor girl had lain many
long years, incurable, when one day the Virgin appeared in dazzling
beauty, holding the Child, and told two little boys who happened to be
in the hospital to fetch brother Jacopo della Cappa. The venerable
brother, being busy confessing, refused to be disturbed, whereupon the
Virgin sent a second message bidding him come at once, for she desired
him to predict a pestilence in Pistoja, of which he would die in a
month. So he came forthwith, but he had scarcely entered the room when
the dazzling apparition disappeared. But she left the invalid girl in
perfect health, and her holy image on the wall.”

“And did Fra Jacopo duly die?”

“To the day. And so great was the plague that there was scarcely any one
left to administer the last office.”

“As disproportionate as the bed to the church,” I thought, “to kill off
all Pistoja and save one bedridden girl.” But how utter such a thought
to this sweet-faced sister?

“Since then the bed and the image on the wall have wrought many
miracles,” she said. “The blind have had their sight, the deaf their
hearing, the paralysed their limbs. That was why the name was changed
from Our Lady of the Bed to Our Lady of the Graces. And countless were
the pilgrims that came. But in 1780 the wicked Scipione Ricci, who was a
secret Jansenist, was made our bishop, and he tried to destroy the faith
in our sanctuary and in the Girdle of Prato. But our neighbours of Prato
rose against him, rushed into the cathedral, smashed his episcopal
chair, and sacked his palace. He had to resign his bishopric, and so our
faith was purged of the heretic, and Maria was avenged. Ah, that jubilee
of her Immaculate Conception in 1904! It was a day of Paradise.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

Again a haze disturbs my vision. For a moment I see the little
olive-eyed Jewess of Nazara, racked between husband and son, wringing
her impotent hands; then my vision clears, and I am reading a printed
Italian prayer before a chapel of the Madonna in a mighty fane.

 “TO THE HOLY IMMACULATE VIRGIN OF HOPE VENERATED IN THE BASILICA OF S.
                                FREDIANO

    “Kneeling before you, Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God, consoler
    of the afflicted, refuge of sinners, we pray you to turn upon us
    your looks full of goodness, compassion, and love. You see all
    our spiritual and temporal needs. Obtain from your divine Son
    sincere contrition for sin, light to know the truth, force to
    conquer temptations, help to believe and act as true Christians,
    patience in tribulations, peace of heart, holy perseverance to
    the end. Obtain for us that there may remain far from us
    disease, pestilence, hunger, war, earthquakes, fires, drought,
    flood, sudden death. Take this City under your particular
    protection, preserve it, defend it, cause ever to reign therein
    the spirit of religion and of concord, and in private families
    mutual charity, domestic content, and good morals. . . . Whoever
    will devoutly recite this will acquire forty days’ Indulgence
    already conceded by His Most Reverend Excellence Monsignore the
    Archbishop Filippo Santi.

                                                  “_Lucca_, 1848.”

                 *        *        *        *        *

I seemed to be back in Asia on a burning June day fifteen hundred years
before this prayer was written, much pushed about by the crowd that
surged round a church.

“Is it the Whitsuntide service?” I asked a priest at last in the Greek I
heard on all sides.

“Nay; art a barbarian or a worshipper of the Temple of Diana that thou
knowest not the Church of the Theotokos, and the great Imperial Council
of Bishops that is sitting there to avenge the insults of Nestorius to
the Virgin?”

“What insults?” I murmured.

“Surely thou hast snored in the cave in the Pion Hill with our Seven
Sleepers! This blasphemous Patriarch of Constantinople denies our Lady
the title _Theotokos_, would argue that she is not Mother of God, but
that the Christ born through her was only the human part of Him, not the
Eternal Logos.” His voice trembled, his beady eyes flamed with passion.
“And he dares come defend his thesis here—in Ephesus, where the Holy
Virgin lies buried! But our saintly Cyril of Alexandria hath drawn up
twelve anathemas and will stamp him out as he stamped out that minx
Hypatia.”

“Is Cyril here too, then?”

“Ay, and what an ambrosial homily he preached! ‘Hail, Mary, Mother of
God, spotless dove! Hail, Mary, perpetual lamp at which was kindled the
Sun of Justice! Hail, Mary! Thanks to Thee, the archangels rejoice and
sing; thanks to Thee, the Magi followed the star; thanks to Thee the
college of Apostles was established. . . .’” His voice died away in
reminiscent ecstasy.

“Then Cyril and Nestorius are now in debate?”

“Nay, the heretic shrinks from appearing—he pretexts that all the
bishops are not arrived, and he induced the Emperor’s commissioner to
protest against the sitting. But as thou seest, the Council is going
on—hath been going on from early morn—there are two hundred bishops.”

“There are only a hundred and fifty,” put in a voice. “It is
scandalous.”

“Ay,” assented another voice. “Where is the Patriarch of Antioch?”

The priest turned on the Nestorians. “It is beasts like you with whom
Paul fought here,” he said.

“Beast thyself,” retorted a physician in a long robe, “to suggest that
God could be contained in the womb.” It was the beginning of a scuffle
that grew to a bloody battle between the Nestorian minority and the
orthodox. Daggers and scimitars gleamed in the air. I saw a group of
Nestorians take refuge in a church, but fly from it again, leaving a
trail of bleeding corpses along the aisle. The survivors made for the
harbour, hoping doubtless for safety in the multitude of boats and
ships.

And ever thicker grew the crowd surging round the Council-chamber, till
at last as the long summer day closed, a rumbling as of distant thunder
was heard from within—“Anathema! Anathema!” And the cry passed to the
crowd—“Anathema! Anathema!”—till the whole firmament seemed to crash
and rock with it and men cheered and danced and tossed their weapons in
air. And as the venerable figures began to troop out and the word came
that Nestorius was deposed, a thousand torches leapt as by magic into
flame, and men escorted the Bishops to their lodgings, leaping and
singing, and lo! round the whole city blazed illuminations and bonfires.

And my eyes, piercing through the future, beheld Italian _bottegas_ with
immortal Masters and Pupils, turning out through the centuries portraits
of the Madonna and Child, to be blazoned henceforward inseparable, a
symbol of the true faith: delectable, innumerable, filling the whole
earth with their glory.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The close smell of the studios gave way again to the odour of crowded
humanity and I was in the arena of Seville. But never, not even at
Easter, had I seen the populace so joyous, the ladies shrouded in such
rich mantillas or flirting such precious fans, the picadors so gaily
caparisoned, the toreadors so daring, the bulls maddened with so many
banderillas or disembowelling so many horses. It was the mutual ecstasy
of slaughter. And from all parts of the city penetrated the chiming of
bells, while the thunder of festive cannon sometimes drowned even the
roar of the ring. And at every thrilling stroke or perilous charge there
came from parted lips, “_Ave Maria purissima_” or “_Viva nuestra
Señora_,” and from all around rose the instinctive reply: “_Sin peccado
concebida_.”

Gradually, as I listened to the conversation in the intervals of the
bull fights, I became aware of the sense of the _Fiesta_. All this
overflow of religious rapture sprang not from the bulls but the
Bull—_Regis Pacifici_—which after centuries of passionate controversy
had at last been launched by Paul V in this sixteen hundred and
seventeenth year from the bearing of the Virgin, forbidding the
opponents of Immaculate Conception to sustain their doctrine in public.
Maria had been conceived without sin. The last flaw had been removed
from her perfection.

“Heaven rewards us for expelling the last of the Moors,” cried a lovely
Señora with a dazzling flash of eyes and teeth. “And now that we have
purged Spain and placed her and her mighty possessions under the
protection of the Immaculate Conception, her future shall be even more
glorious than her past.”

But my reply was drowned by the roar of the ring as the dead bull was
trailed off at a gallop.

“_Ave Maria purissima!_”

“_Sin peccado concebida!_”

                 *        *        *        *        *

I am still in Spain, watching Señor Bartholomé Estéban Murillo polish
off his Madonnas for country fairs or South American convents. Presently
under the guidance of Señor Pacheco, Holy Inquisitor of pictures, he
paints the popular dogma of the day, in the shape of little angels
floating below a lovely lady in a blue mantle standing with clasped
hands on the earth-ball, and the scene shifts to France where two
centuries later the picture is purchased at a fabulous price by the
Louvre, just before Pio Nono from his refuge at Gaeta publishes the Bull
_Ineffabilis_, definitely declaring that the freedom of the Virgin from
original sin is a divine revelation. Cheap coloured pictures of the
“Immaculate Conception” multiply, and Bernadette, a pious young
shepherdess in the French Pyrenees, beholds in a grotto by a spring a
White Lady, veiled from head to foot, with a cerulean floating scarf, a
chaplet with golden links, and two golden roses on her naked feet, who
announces herself as “The Immaculate Conception” and demands a
Procession to her shrine.

And before my eyes unrolls the long panorama, painted in immortal
colours by the epical brush of Zola: the mushroom Lourdes of hotels and
holy shops replacing the rude village, the Hospital of our Lady of
Sorrows, the crowned statue of our Lady of Salvation, the Fathers of the
Grotto, the Blue Sisters, the Church of the Rosary, the Basilica swathed
in splendid banners, glittering with golden hearts innumerable, and
jewels and marbles and marvellous lamps; the unending masses and
litanies, the three hundred thousand pilgrims a year, the thaumaturgic
bathing pools, unclean, abominable, the White Train rolling through the
night with its hideous agglomeration of human agonies, amid ecstatic
canticles to the Madonna, the thirty thousand tapers winding round in
leagues of flame to the rhythm of interminable invocations, the
perpetual thunder of supplication breaking frenziedly on the figure of
the Madonna framed in the ever-blazing Grotto.

                 *        *        *        *        *

The thunder continued but it was again the roar of an arena, though by
the towered old palaces round the great semi-circle of cobbled piazza
and by the fountain with the bas-reliefs of Christian virtues I knew I
was back in Italy, in my beloved Siena. But what was this smoky flame
that shot skyward and what was this tree near the Christian fountain
that they were breaking up to throw on the bonfire? What was this
dreadful sport that had replaced the Palio?

In a vast pyre burnt a great huddle of writhing figures, whose shrieks
were drowned by the fiendish roar of the drunken mob.

“_Viva Maria! Viva Maria!_”

And I remembered that Siena had peculiarly dedicated itself to the Holy
Mother, was the _civitas Virginis_, and that the Madonna was its feudal
suzerain, formally presented with the keys of its gates. Visions from
the old chronicles floated before me—the dedication of 1260, the
weeping Syndic in his shirt, a rope round his neck, prostrate with the
Bishop before the altar of the Virgin, or walking behind her as she was
carried in the great barefoot procession to the chanting of Ave Marias;
and the victory over Florence that duly followed, when, throwing her
white mantle of mist over her city, she enabled her faithful feudatories
to slay ten thousand Florentines “as a butcher slays animals in a
slaughter house,” so that the Malena ran bank-high with blood, and the
region, polluted by the carcases of eighteen thousand horses, was
abandoned to the wild beasts, and coins were struck in her honour; and
the renewed dedications whenever the Commune was in peril, the gorgeous
processions and “Te Deums,” the great silk standard showing the Madonna
rising into heaven over the city, the Cardinal, the Prior, the Captain
of the People, the Signoria in violet and cloaked as on Good Friday, the
trumpeters trumpeting in the striped Duomo, the feudal keys in a silver
basin, the fifty poor damsels in white, dowered annually so long as the
Virgin did her duty as suzerain——

But the shrieks from the bonfire brought me back to the moment.

“Whom are they burning?” I cried in horror.

“Only Jews,” replied my neighbour reassuringly, and indeed, I could now
distinguish the Hebrew death-cries of the victims.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One.”

“We burn them and the Tree of Liberty together!” my neighbour chuckled.
“No godless French Republic for us!” A fierce yell from the crowd
underlined his remark. He craned forward, beaming, exalted.

“They have found another! O Blessed Virgin of Comfort, they have found
another!”

And I perceived, dragged along towards the pyre by her greying hair, a
little olive-eyed Jewish mother, whose worn face I seemed to recognise
under her dishevelled head-shawl.

“_Viva Maria! Viva Maria! Viva la Madre di Dio!_”

                 *        *        *        *        *

The spectacle was too horrible. With a convulsive shudder I shook off
these visions and rose, cramped, to my feet. The sun was dipping beyond
the mountains of Vicenza, the peaceful bell from below was still
tolling, the air was cool and delicious. Now I could continue my climb
to the church of Our Lady of the Mountain. And the loving epithets
recommenced—“_Debellatrix Incredulorum_,” “_Janua Coeli_,” “_Turris
Davidica_,” without pause, without end. And as I walked, other of her
countless names began crowding upon me, from “Our Lady of Snows” to “Our
Lady of Sorrows,” from “Our Lady of the Porringer” to “The Queen of the
Angels,” and all the symbols of her, from the Pomegranate to the Sealed
Book, from the Dove to the Porta Clausa; and all the myriads of churches
and altars that had been dedicated to her from Rome to Ecuador—from
Milan Cathedral with its hundred spires to the humblest wayside shrine
of Sicily or Mexico—and all the feasts, all the “Months of Maria,” all
the Pilgrimages, with all the medals and missals, all the effigies in
wood or wax or bronze, all the marbles and mosaics, from the crude
little black sacrosanct Byzantine figures to the exquisitely tender
marble Pietà of Michelangelo, and all the convents and orders she had
created, all the Enfants de Marie, and Serviti di Maria, and Sisters of
the Immaculate Conception, and all the hymns, antiphons, litanies,
lections, carols, canticles. The air was full of organ sounds and the
melody of soaring voices. “Ave Maris Stella” they sang, and “Salve
Regina” and “Stabat Mater,” and then in an infinite incantation,
sounding and resounding from all the spaces of the world: “_Sancta
Maria, ora pro nobis! Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis!_” And her figure
floated before me, pure, radiant, loving, as it has floated before
millions of households for hundreds of years, consoling, blessing,
vitalising.

And I thought of her long adventure to reach this marvellous apotheosis:
in what a strange little source this mighty river had begun; how that
looseness of the Septuagint translator in rendering the Hebrew for
“maiden” by “virgin” in an utterly irrelevant passage of Isaiah had led
to Mary’s virginity; how she had remained a virgin through all the
vicissitudes of her married life, Joseph turning into a man of eighty
with children by his former wife, or even remaining virgin himself, the
brothers of Jesus changing into his cousins; how her son had been born
as a ray of light or even as an illusive appearance; how, with the
growth of theology and Mariolatry and nunneries and monasteries, she had
grown holier and holier, immaculate, impeccable, a model to men and
maidens, the Queen of Heaven, mighty beyond all the saints, giving four
feast-days to the Church, entering into the liturgy, redeeming souls
from purgatory on Assumption Day, and even sustaining the saintly with
her milk; how her final purification from the taint of original sin had
been a stumbling block for the more rigid theologians, St. Bernard
opposing the festival, Aquinas and the Dominicans denying the dogma
against Duns Scotus and the Franciscans; but how the “intellectuals”—so
serviceable to the mob when their logic found contorted reasons for the
popular faith—were sooner or later swept aside, the harsh definers of
heresy themselves left heretics, when they ran counter to the popular
emotion, the popular festivals, the popular instinct for an ideal of
purity and perfection. What a curious play and interplay of
schoolman-logic and living emotion, working ceaselessly through the
centuries, combining or competing to re-shape and sublimate the
carpenter’s wife till she was wrought to the mould of the popular need,
her very parents, unknown to the Gospels, becoming, as Joachim and Anna,
the centre of a fresh cycle of legends, pictures, Church festivals. And
what uncountable volumes of monumental learning and jejune controversy,
from Augustus and Anselm and the venerable Bede to the two thousand and
twelve pages of Carlo Passaglia of Lucca, the respondent to Renan!

And my thoughts turned from the theologians to the poets and painters,
to the _Vergine Bella e di sol vestita_—the beautiful Apocalyptic
Virgin, clothed with the sun—of Petrarch, and the weeping Virgin of
Tasso, and the _Vergine Madre Figlia del tuo Figlio_ of Dante, and the
images in all these forms created by the artists, for whom the Madonna
sufficed to open all the mansions of art; who could cluster all the
poetry of the world round her glory or her grief, were it rural
loveliness or the beauty of lilies, or lofty architecture, or
space-rhythm, or begemmed and brocaded attire, or the sculptural nude;
who set her rich-carved throne, adorned with arabesques or hued in
strange green and gold, amid palatial pillars under diapered ceilings or
within glamorous landscapes, or in the bowers of roses or under the
shadow of lemon-trees; who even crowned her with the Papal tiara.

But none of these images would stay with me: for not even the triple
crown, surmounted by the golden globe and cross, not even this symbol of
temporal, spiritual, and purgatorial authority, could banish the worn
face of the carpenter’s wife under the cheap head-shawl, the little
olive-eyed mother in Israel, in whose ears sounded and resounded the
terrible words: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?”



  THE EARTH THE CENTRE OF THE UNIVERSE: OR THE ABSURDITY OF ASTRONOMY


From the swinging of the bronze lamp in the nave of Pisa Cathedral
Galileo caught the idea of measuring Time by the pendulum; by the
telescope he made at Padua he mapped Space. Within a decade of the
burning of Giordano Bruno the heavens were opened up to show the
infinity of worlds, and the heliocentric teaching of Copernicus was
confirmed by the revelation of Jupiter’s satellites. What the _Sidereus
Nuncius_ of Galileo announced was the end of an era. By this terrible
book and his terrible telescope the poor little earth was pushed out of
the centre of the stage. The moon—no longer _teres atque rotunda_—lost
her beautiful spheric smoothness, her very light was a loan—unrepaid.
Great _Sol_, himself, the old lord of creation, gradually sank to the
obscure coryphæus of some choric dance veering towards and around some
ineffable pivot in a measureless choragium. The ninefold vault
engirdling Dante’s universe was shrivelled up. The cosy cosmos was
replaced by a maze of solar systems, glory beyond glory, of milky ways
that were but clouds of worlds, thick as a haze of summer insects or a
whirl of sand in the Sahara. The poor human brain reeled in this simoom
of stars, and to complete its confusion, the philosophers hastened to
assure it that with the universe no longer geocentric, man could no
longer flatter himself to be its central interest.

        “So many nobler bodies to create,
         Greater, so manifold, to this one use,”

appeared disproportionate to Milton’s Adam. _Homo_ could not be the
Master-Builder’s main concern—the great human tragedy was a by-product.
A sad conclusion, and possibly a true—but a conclusion utterly
unwarranted by these premises. More sanely did the beneficent and facile
Raphael remind the doubting Adam,

               “Whether heaven moves or earth
         Imports not.”

The noble astronomic questionings in the eighth book of “Paradise Lost”
testify to the ferment among the first inhabitants of the new
cosmos—Milton was born in the same year as the telescope and met
Galileo at Florence—but despite the poet’s half-hearted protests, man
has swallowed too humbly the doctrine that our earth is not the centre
of the universe. Pray do not confound me with those pious pundits whose
proofs of the flatness of the earth are still the hope of a lingering
sect, and a witness to the immortality of human stupidity. I am no
Muggletonian whose sun is four miles from the earth. I have no lance to
tilt against the mathematicians and their tubes. But I fail to see how
the mere broadening out of our universe can displace _Terra_ from the
centre. Till we have the final and all-inclusive chart of the
heavens—and worlds immeasurable are still beyond our ken, worlds whose
light speeding to us at eleven million miles or so a minute is still on
its way—how can any one assert conclusively that our earth is not in
the exact centre of all the systems? That it goes round the sun—instead
of being the centre of the sun’s revolution—is nothing against its
supremacy or central status. The fire exists for the meat, though the
_spit_ revolves and not the fire.

And if the earth be not in the centre of the systems, it assuredly
remains at the centre of Space. For by that old definition of Hermes
Trismegistus to which Pascal gave currency, every point of an infinite
area is really its centre, even as no point is its circumference. And in
a psychological sense too, wherever a spectator stands is the centre of
the universe.

But grant the earth be not the centre of Space or the systems! What
then? How does it lose its lofty estate? Is London at the globe’s
kernel? Did the axis pass through Rome? Kepler wasted much precious time
under the current philosophic obsession that the orbits of the planets
must be circular—since any figure less perfect than a circle were
incompatible with their dignity. Hence the cumbrous hypotheses to
explain their apparent deviation from perfection, hence was the sphere
girt

        “With centric and eccentric scribbled o’er,
         Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb.”

The same fallacy of symmetry surely underlies the notion that the earth
is dethroned from its hegemony of the stellar system merely because the
lines drawn to it from every _ultima Thule_ of the universe are unequal.
’Tis a confusion of geometric centre with centre of forces. It may be
that just this asymmetric station was necessary for the evolution of the
universe’s crowning race.

For if the Universe has not its aim and centre in man, pray to what
other end all this planetary pother? If man is but a by-product of the
cosmic laboratory, what is the staple? Till this question is answered,
we may safely continue anthropocentric.

Man abased forsooth by this whirl of mammoth worlds! Nay, ’tis our
grandeur that stands exalted, our modesty that stands corrected. We did
not dream that our facture required such colossal machinery, that to
engender us a billion billion planets must be in experimental
effervescence. A fig upon their size! Do we rank Milton inferior to the
megatherium? Can a man take thought by adding a cubit to his stature?
The ant is wiser than the alligator, and the sprawling saurians of the
primal slime may have their analogue in the huge weltering worlds that
have never evolved a human brain. And had the earth swollen herself to
the gross amplitude of the sun, her case were no better: she would still
be—in the infinite wash of Space—a pebble, even as a pebble is a
stellar system in miniature. There lies the paradox of infinity. Nothing
in it is large enough to be important—if quantity is the criterion of
importance. To be in one spot of Space is as dignified or undignified as
to be in another. Why, I wonder, has position in Time escaped this
invidious criticism. As well assert that nothing important can happen or
nothing that happens can be important, because everything must happen at
a mere point of Time, which is not even Time’s _central_ point. It was a
truer sense of values that made Christendom and Islam boldly place their
foundation at Time’s central point, up to which or back to which all the
ages lead. The year One begins with Christ’s birth, with Mohammed’s
Hegira. In the same spirit, though with a more literal belief, did the
old cartographers draw their world round Jerusalem as a centre. Position
in Time or Space is not the measure of importance, but importance is the
measure of position in Time or Space. Where the highest life is being
lived, there is the centre of the world, and unless a higher life is
lived elsewhere, the centre of the universe. Not, where are we in Space,
but are we on the central lines of cosmic evolution? That is the
question.

Theology, then, stands where it did, wherever _Terra_ stands. Not the
mythical theology of sacred books, but the scientific theology of sacred
facts. The expansion of the universe from a mapped parish to a
half-uncharted wilderness of worlds cannot shake religion—a Deity is
more suitably lodged in infinity than on a roof-garden—but it did shake
the Church, so recklessly committed to a disprovable cosmogony. And the
Church burnt books and men with its habitual consuming zeal, denying the
motion of the earth as it had denied the Antipodes, clinging to an earth
surrounded by menial planets, as it had clung to the flat plane of
“Christian Topography.”

But is there nothing to be said for the Churchmen? Were they mere
venomous obscurantists? Nay, they were patriots fighting for their
father-world, for the cosmos of their ancestors, _pro aris et focis_.
They saw their little universe threatened by the rise of a great stellar
empire. They saw themselves about to be swallowed up and lost in its
measureless magnificence. And so in a frenzy of chauvinism they gagged
Galileo and burned Giordano Bruno, those traitors in the camp, in league
with Reason, emperor of the stars.

But despite the Church’s defeat, our little globe still maintains a
sturdy independence. And until you bring me evidence of a superior
genus, I shall continue to regard our good red earth as the centre of
creation, and man as the focus of inter-celestial planetary forces.

Millions of spiritual creatures may walk the earth unseen, as Milton
asserts, and millions more may be invisible in Mars and the remoter
seats of the merry-go-round, but _de non apparentibus et de non
existentibus eadem est ratio_. It is William James who of all
philosophers in the world would argue our fates regulated by superior
beings with whom we co-exist as with us our cats and dogs. The analogy
has not even one leg to stand on. The cat and the dog have solid proof
of our existence, they see and hear us, and we share with them a large
segment of existence. Our anatomy and theirs are much of a muchness.
They divide with us our food and our drink and bask at the same fire,
nay, it requires a vast conceit to look them in the face and deny our
kinship. But who save Gulliver hath beheld a bodily Superman or partaken
of his meals? Even with our spiritual superiors, with our Shakespeares
and Beethovens, we have a substantial basis of identity. The range of
thought which circumscribes ours must at the same time partially
coincide with it, and though our thoughts be not wholly their thoughts,
their thoughts must needs be partially ours.

God may be infinitely more than man, but He is not finitely less. Even a
God without humour would be—to that extent—man’s inferior. Matthew
Arnold’s gibe of the “magnified non-natural man” is groundless. I do not
become a magnified non-natural dog because I have attributes in common
with my terrier. The God of theology is already divested of man’s
matter; deflate Him likewise of man’s spirit, and what remains? In
robbing their Deity of all human traits the de-anthropomorphic
philosophers have overshot the mark and reduced Him to a transcendental
nullity who can neither be comprehended by His creatures nor comprehend
them.

Or if they allow Him ideas and passions, they neutralise and sterilise
them in a frenzy of scholastic paradox. “_Amas, nec æstuas_,” cries St.
Augustine, “_zelas et securus es; pænitet te et non doles; irasceris et
tranquillus es_.” God repents, but without regret; He is angry but
perfectly tranquil. To evade the limitations of any attribute we endow
Him at the same time with its opposite, as who should say a white negro.
But such violent assaults upon the unthinkable yield no prize either of
understanding or of satisfaction.

If “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” be not that same
love which a noble man may feel for his fellow-creatures of every order
of being, if it be a love that is at the same time indifference, or even
hate, then it may equally be expressed as “the hate which moves the sun
and the other stars” (and which is at the same time love). Or it may
find far honester expression as the agnostic’s unknowable—the X that
moves the sun and the other stars. If God’s justice be not man’s
justice, then it is no justice. It _must_ be our justice—if it is
justice at all—our justice, only occupied and obscured by innumerable
pros and cons to us unknown, and extending over times and spaces beyond
our ken, so that were we placed in possession of all the evidence we
should applaud the verdict. The philosophers do but narrow their God
under illusion of broadening Him—or rather they broaden Him so
tenuously that He becomes an infinite impalpability, whose accidental
evaporation would scarcely be noted. It was a more consistent mystic who
said: “God may not improperly be styled nothing.”

So that our circumnavigation of the infinite brings us back to our noble
selves and our own door-step. The sun is still there to give us light by
day, and the moon and stars still shine to give us light by night. Nor
is it less their function to nourish us with beauty and with mystery.

        “When Science from Creation’s face
         Enchantment’s veil withdraws,
         What lovely visions yield their place
         To cold material laws!”

Campbell, who thus complained, was no profound poet. The laws are
neither cold nor material, nor do the lovely visions yield their place.
Their loveliness is as abiding as the laws which produce them. ’Tis true
that at first Galileo seemed to have profaned Cynthia, the “goddess
excellently bright.” The moon, the beautiful moon of poets and lovers,
lay betrayed—a dead planet, a scarred desolation, seamed with arid
ravines and pitted with a pox of craters. Is then the moon of the poets
a delusion which science bids us put away like a childish toy? No, by
her own heavens, no. A more scientific science restores the glamour. The
moon has all the beauty she appears to have. The loveliest woman’s face,
viewed through a magnifying glass, appears equally scarred and seamed
and pitted. But here ’tis the lens that is accused of falsification,
’tis the ugliness that is pronounced the delusion—a face was meant to
be seen at a certain distance and with the natural eye. Even so—and the
moon chose _her_ distance with admirable discretion.

The synthesis of everyday reality is always man’s central verity. The
peering unnatural scientific vision of the moon has the lesser truth, is
but a spectral rim of the whole-orbed reality. ’Tis the poet’s moon that
is the full moon. But the poet were as foolish as the astronomer if he
in his turn imagined himself dealing with absolutes, if he forgot that
in logic as in landscape all views depend on the point at which you
place yourself. It is only from the true point of view that the earth
remains the centre of the universe.



       OF AUTOCOSMS WITHOUT FACTS: OR THE EMPTINESS OF RELIGIONS


And what is the invasion of our consciousness by the extended stellar
system to its invasion by the intensive infinities of our own globular
parish? The endless galaxy of the centuries and the civilisations has
opened out before our telescopic thought. We are no longer at the centre
of our cosmos—we can no longer snuggle in a cosy conceptual world,
Classical or Christian, nor can we make the best of both these worlds,
like Raphael or Milton. The dim populations have become lurid. Japan
pours her art upon us, and her equal claim to hold a chosen
people—“pursuing,” as its Emperor’s oath declares, “a policy
co-extensive with the heavens and the earth.” Egypt unrolls the teeming
scroll of her immemorial dynasties. The four hundred millions of China
lie on our imaginations like a nightmare in yellow, and we perceive that
the maker of man hath a predilection for pigtails. India opens out her
duskily magnificent infinities and we are grown familiar with Brahma and
Vishnu, with Vedas and Buddha-Jâtakas. Persia reveals to us in the Zend
Avesta of Zoroaster a strangely modern gospel, glimmering through
grotesque images of space and time. Mohammed is no longer an Infidel,
and we recognise the subtlety alike of the Motekallamin and the Arabic
Aristotelians. We respect the Norse Gods and the great Tree Yggdrasil.
The Teutonic divinities have reappeared in every part of the civilised
earth and their operatic voice is heard with more reverence than any
other god’s. Even the old Peruvian civilisation solicits us, that
successful social order of the Incas. The stellar swirl of worlds is a
crude puzzle in quantity beside these mental worlds which the peoples
have spun for themselves like cocoons.

But not only the peoples. Each creature that has ever lived, from the
spider to Shakespeare, has spun for itself its own cosmos. Microcosm we
cannot call this cosmos, since that implies the macrocosm drawn to
smaller scale, and this—like all creations—is a mere selection from
the universe, excluding and including after its own idiosyncrasy.
Autocosm is the word we need for it—a new word, but a phenomenon as old
as the first created consciousness, and a phenomenon that has never
perfectly repeated itself since that day. For no two autocosms have ever
been precisely alike. In the lower orders of being the autocosm may be
substantially identical throughout all the individuals of the species,
but as we mount in the grade of organisation, the autocosm becomes more
and more individual. And even the large generic autocosms, how variously
compounded—the scent-world of dogs, the eye-world of birds, the uncanny
touch-world of bats, the earth-world of worms, the water-world of
fishes, the gyroscopic world of dancing-mice, the flesh-world of
parasites, the microscopic world of microbes. These worlds do not need
untrammelled orbits, they intersect one another inextricably in an
infinite interlacing. Yet each is a symmetric sphere of being, a rounded
whole, and to its denizens the sole and self-sufficient cosmos. One
creature’s poison is another creature’s meat, one creature’s offal is
another creature’s paradise, and our cemetery is a nursery aswarm with
creeping mites. If on the one hand Nature seems a wasteful housekeeper,
scattering a thousand seeds that one may bear, on the other hand she
appears ineffably ingenious in economising every ort and oddment, every
cheese-paring and scum-drop as the seed-plot of new and joyous
existence. Life, like an infinite nebulous spirit, bursts in through
every nook and cranny of matter, squeezing itself into every possible
and improbable mould, and even filling a chink in an existing creature
rather than remain outside organisation. And each atom of spirit that
achieves material existence takes its cramped horizons for the
boundaries of the universe and itself as the centre of creation. Woe
indeed to the creature that has seen beyond its own boundaries, that can
weave no cosy autocosm to nestle in. This is what happens to your
Shakespeares and your Schopenhauers; this is the “Everlasting Nay” of
“Sartor Resartus.” Life is become

          “A tale
        Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
        Signifying nothing.”

Such an autocosm is the shirt of Nessus. Hercules must tear it off or
perish. And we are all the time changing our autocosms. That is the
meaning of experience. Only the fool dies in the same cosmos in which he
was born, and a great teacher or a great statesman changes the autocosm
of his generation.

Here be the true weavings with which Time’s Shuttle is busy, these
endless patternings and re-patternings of mental worlds, adjusted to
ever-changing creatures, and ever-shifting circumstances. The birth and
death of planets is stability compared with this mercurial flux, which
in the human world is known as movements of thought and religion,
growths and decays of language, periods of art and politics. History is
the clash of autocosms, and every war is a war of the worlds.

As I walk into Milan Cathedral, the modern autocosm fades out with the
buzz and tingle of the electric cars that engirdle the great old
building, and the massive walls of the mediæval autocosm shut me into a
glowing gloom of unearthly radiance, whose religious hush is accentuated
by the sound of soft bells. Only the dominating figure on the cross
seems out of tone; this blood is too violent for peace. What a paradox
that the Christians are such dominant races—perhaps they needed this
brake. But even without the blood, the cruciform dusk of the interior is
in discord with the lace-work of the exterior, recalls the sombreness
below the glittering Renaissance. All this multitudinous microscopic
work is waste, all this wealth of fretwork and final, for it is only at
a distance, when the details have faded into the mass, that this mass
appears noble. And this, too, is like the Catholic autocosm, with its
rococo detail and its massive magnificence.

And round the Cathedral, as I said, rages the modern order—is not Milan
the metropolis of Italian science and do not all tram-roads lead to the
Piazza del Duomo?—and a ballet I saw in La Scala danced the carmagnole
of the new world. “Excelsior” was its jubilant motto, the ascent being
from Cathedrals to Railway Bridges and Balloons. A Shining Spirit of
Light (_Luce_) inspired Civiltà and baffled the priestly powers of
darkness (_Tenebre_), while ineffably glittering coryphées proclaimed
with their toes “Eureka!”

But ah! my dear Corybants of Reason, an autocosm may be habitable and
even comfortable in despite of Science. Its working value is independent
of its containing false materials, or true materials in false
proportions. And yet, my dear devotees of Pragmatism—that parvenu among
Philosophies—its utility does not establish its truth. A false coin
will do all the work of a true coin so long as it is not found out.
Nevertheless there exists a test of coins independent of their power of
gulling the public. And there exists a name for those who continue to
circulate a coin _after_ they know it to be false. The Pragmatist may
apply his philosophy to justify past forms of belief and action, now
outmoded, but he will do infinite mischief if he tries to juggle himself
or the world into such forms of belief or action _because_ they lead to
spiritual and practical satisfactions.

        Oh, what a tangled web we weave
        When first we practise to _believe_!

Nay, it is doubtful whether satisfaction can come as the sequel of any
but a genuine and involuntary belief. There is much significance in the
story of the old Welsh lady who desired the removal of the mountain in
front of her window and complained to her pastor that all her prayers
had been unable to move it a single inch. “Because you have not _real_
faith,” was the glib clerical reply. Whereupon, resolved to have “_real_
faith,” the old lady spent a night of prayer on her knees opposite the
mountain. When morning came, and she rolled up the blind, lo! the
mountain stood as before. “There!” she exclaimed. “_Just as I
expected!_”

This pseudo-faith is, I fear, all that the Pragmatist can beguile or
batter himself into, for if he has real faith he needs no Pragmatism to
justify it by.

I grant you—indeed I have always pointed out—that there is a large
area of the autocosm given over to artistic, moral and spiritual truths
which are their own justification. But it is only where there is no
objective test of truth that Pontius Pilate’s question may be answered
with the test of success and stimulation. Wherever it is possible to
compare the autocosm with the macrocosm, contradiction must be taken as
the mark of falsity, and either our notion of the macrocosm must be
amended, or our autocosm. Of course in the last analysis the macrocosm
is only the autocosm of its age, but it is the common segment of all the
individual autocosms. And while they are liable to shrivel up like
pricked bladders, the objective universe can only expand and expand.

Despite La Scala and its dædal Modernism, it was, I fear, the Catholic
autocosm which fascinated me most in Italy, with its naïve poetry, its
grossness, its sublimity, and its daring distortions of the macrocosm.
The very clock-wheels in their courses fight against reality. Read in
the great church of S. Petronio the directions on the two clocks of
Fornasini, one giving the solar time in the antique Italian style—when
the hour varied with the daylight—and the other the mean time of the
meridian of Bologna. “Subtract the time on the Italian clock from 24
o’clock, add the remainder to the time indicated on the other clock, but
counted from 1 to 24 o’clock. _The time thus obtained will be the hour
of Ave Maria!_” The hour of Ave Maria! Not some crude arithmetical hour.
Not the hour of repose from work, not the hour of impending sunset, but
the hour of the vesper bell, the hour of Ave Maria! How it circumlaps,
this atmosphere, how it weaves a veil of pity and love between man and
the macrocosm.

It is nearly three and a half centuries since Italy helped to break the
power of the Paynim at Lepanto, yet the belief that the Madonna (who
could not free her own land from the Turk) was the _auxilium
Christianorum_, is as lively as on the day when the bigoted Gregory XIII
instituted the Feast of the Rosary to commemorate her victory. At Verona
I read in a church a vast inscription set up at the tercentenary of the
battle, still ascribing the victory not only to the “supreme valour of
our arms steeled by the word of Pius V,” but also to “the great
armipotent Virgin.” Saints that I had in my ignorance imagined remote
from to-day, shelved in legend and picture, retired from practical life,
are, I found, still in the full exercise of their professional
activities as thaumaturgists; and scholastic philosophers whose systems
I had skimmed in my youth as archaic lore, whom I had conceived as
buried in encyclopædias and monastic libraries, blossom annually in new
editions. There is the Angelic Doctor—Preceptor as he was styled on the
title-pages—whom I had thought safely tucked away in the tenth canto of
the “Paradiso.” In the Seminario Vescovile of Ferrara I beheld the bulky
volumes of his “Summa Theologiæ” in the pious hands of the fledgeling
priests, in a class-room whose ceiling bears the sombre frescoes with
which Garofalo had enriched the building in its palmy days as a Palazzo.
And the theology has decayed far less than the frescoes. Still, that
which we look upon as the faded thought of the Middle Ages, serves as
the fresh bread of life to these youthful souls. Little did I dream when
I first saw Benozzo Gozzoli’s picture of _The Triumph of St. Thomas_, or
Taddeo Gaddi’s portrayal of his celestial exaltation over the
discomfited Arius, Sabellius, and Averroes, that I should see with my
own eyes scholars still at the feet of the _Magister studentium_ of the
thirteenth century. Well may the Pope undaunted launch his Encyclicals,
and the _Osservatore Romano_ remark that “the evolution of dogma is a
logical nonsense for philosophers and a heresy for theologians.”

Pascal summed it up long ago: “Truth on this side of the Pyrenees,
Falsehood beyond.” What is true in the Piazza of St. Peter grows false
as you pass the Swiss Guards. Catholic truth, like the Vatican, is
extra-territorial. Why should it concern itself with what is believed
outside? Even the Averroist philosophers taught that their results were
true only in philosophy, and that in the realm of Catholicism what the
Church taught was true. And though “impugning the known truth” be one of
the sins against the Holy Ghost, the known truth and the Church truth
show scant promise of coinciding. And the triumph of St. Thomas
continues, as saint no less than as teacher. “Divus Thomas Aquinas” I
found him styled in Perugia. His _Festa_ is on March 7, as I read in a
placard in the Church of S. Domenico in Ferrara.

                     “Festa dell’ Angelico Dottore
                            S. T. d’Aquinas
                 San Patrono delle Scuole Cattoliche.”

On the day of the Festa there is plenary indulgence for all the
faithful. There was another indulgence “per gli ascritti alla Milizia
Angelica.” But whether the Angelic Militia are the pupils of the Angelic
Doctor I am not learned enough to say.

His even earlier saintship, St. Antony, not only continues to dominate
Padua from his vast monumental Church, and enjoy his three June days of
Festa in his nominal city, but his tutelary grace extends far beyond. In
the Church of San Spirito in the Via Ariosto of Ferrara, the famous
preacher to the fishes was—after the earthquake of 1908—the target of
three days of prayer. The house Ariosto built himself in the fifteenth
century stands in the same street, but Ariosto’s world of mediæval
chivalry is shattered into atoms while St. Antony still saves Ferrara
from earthquake.

Yes—allowing Messina and Reggio to be annihilated—the Saint in 1908
said to the seismic forces, “So far and no farther,” and ’tis not for
me, whose umbrella he recovered on the very day I mocked at his
pretensions, to resent his preferences. Three days of thanksgiving (mass
in the morning at his altar and prayers and Benediction in the
afternoon), “per lo scampato flagello del Terremoto,” rewarded his
partiality for Ferrara. The town keeps doubtless a morbid memory of
earthquakes, for from an old German book printed at Augsburg by Michael
Manger, I learn that the terrible _Terremoto_ of 1570, “in Welschland am
Po,” started in Ferrara on a 16th in the night and lasted till the 21st,
during which time two hundred people perished, and many houses with a
dozen churches, monasteries and nunneries were destroyed in Ferrara
alone. Why St. Antony nodded on that occasion is not explained. Nor why
he should have limited his protection to the Jews, not a man of whom was
injured. Perhaps he had not yet recognised the claim of Ferrarese
Christianity upon him. There is a wistful note in the prayer placarded
in the Ferrarese church of San Francesco. “O great saint, commonly
called the saint of Padua, but worthy to be called the saint of the
world. . . . You who so often pressed in your arms the celestial
Bambino!”

Happy Paduans, to whom this chronological prodigy is securely attached,
who indeed hastened to build a Cathedral round him in the very year of
his canonisation (1232). Here amid crudely worked flowers, crutches,
photographs and other mementoes of his prowess, the faithful may find
remission of their sins or expiation of the faults of their dead. For
what limit is there to his intercessory power? Let me English the prayer
hung up in his chapel. Every religion has its higher and more sophistic
presentation, but it is well to turn from the pundits to the people.

                   “ORAZIONE A S. ANTONIO DI PADOVA.

    “Great St. Antony, the Church glories in all the prerogatives
    that God has favoured you with among all the saints. Death is
    disarmed by your power; error is dissipated by your light. They
    whom the malice of man tries to wound receive from you the
    desired relief. The leprous, the sick, the crippled, by your
    virtue obtain cure, and the hurricanes and the tempests of the
    sea calm themselves at your command; the chains of slaves fall
    in pieces by your authority, and the lost things are found again
    by your care and return to their legitimate possessors. All
    those who invoke you with faith are freed from the evils and
    perils that menace them. In fine, there is no want to which your
    power and goodness do not extend.”

Here the intermediary has practically superseded the Creator, even if
dulia be still distinguished from latria.

Rimini was likewise safeguarded from the earthquake of 1908, but not by
St. Antony. A saint of its own, the glorious Bishop and Martyr, St.
Emidio, “compatrone della città, protettore potentissimo contro il
flagello del Terremoto,” received the Three Days’ Solemn Supplication,
and the Riminese were adjured in many a placard to repeat their fathers’
glorious outburst of faith before the thaumaturgic images when the city
was delivered from the frightful earthquake of 1786. But on the whole
the saints can scarcely have done their duty by the old towered cities,
for all Italy is full of the legend of toppled towers.

In war-perils it is the Archangel Michael who is the power to approach.
A prayer, ordered by Pope Leo XIII to be said in all the churches of the
world on bended knees after private mass, pleads to that Holy Prince of
the celestial legions to defend us in battle and to thrust Satan and
other roving spirits of evil back to Hell. “Tuque, Princeps Militiæ
Cœlestis, Satanam aliosque spiritus malignos, qui ad perditionem
animarum pervagantur in mundo, divina virtute in infernum detrude.
Amen.”

That Satan still has the entry of the Catholic autocosm, I was indeed
not unaware. But I was certainly taken aback to find the Plague still
curable by Paternosters. Yet this is what I was told in a little church
in Brescia devoted to Moretto’s works and monument, and summing up in
letters of gold the whole duty of man.

                “Christians!
        Bless the most holy name of God and of Jesus,
                Respect the Festas,
        Keep the Fasts and the Abstinences!
                In short, only by Prayer
                And Penitence will cease
                Great Mortality, Famine
                And every Epidemic.”

I had regarded the Salute and the other Plague-Churches of Venice as
mere historic curiosities, and written it down as an asset of human
thought that the Plague of 1630 was due to the filthiness and congestion
of the Levantine cities. That when 60,000 Venetians died—“uno
sterminato numero” as the tablet in the Salute says—the Venetian
Republic should with vermicular humility erect a gorgeous church in
gratitude for the Death-Angel’s moderation—this might pass in 1630,
like St. Rocco’s neglect in performing only the few desultory miracles
recorded in the wooden bas-reliefs of his choir. In the seventeenth
century one might even adore the angel of Piero Negri’s staircase-fresco
of _Venice Relieved of the Pest_, tardily as he came to relieve those
ghastly visions of the plague-pit which Zanchi has painted, facing him.
But that in 1836 Venice should have decreed a Three Days’ Thanksgiving
to the “Deiparæ Virgini salutari” for salvation from “the cholera
fiercely raging through Europe” shows that two centuries had made no
change in the Catholic autocosm, nor in the caprice of its Olympians.
Venice had already passed under the Napoleonic reign of pure reason, and
in an old poster of the Teatro Civico I read an invitation to the
citizens to “democratise” the soil of the theatre by planting here the
Tree of Liberty and dancing the _graziosissima Carmagnola_. But
revolutions, French or other, leave undisturbed the deep instinct of
humanity which demands that things spiritual shall produce equipollent
effects in the physical sphere.

“E pur si muove,” as Galileo said a hundred and thirty years after his
death. The Catholic autocosm and the objective macrocosm begin to rub
against each other even in the churches. Quaintly enough ’tis over the
popular practice of spitting that science and religion come into
friction. The priest who convoyed me through the Certosa of Pavia seemed
to regard his wonderful church as a glorified spittoon, and notices in
every church in Italy make clear the universality of the offence. But
whereas at Pavia you are asked “For the decorum of the house of God do
not spit on the pavement,” in Brescia the deprecation is headed: “Lotta
Contro la Tuberculosi,” as though the most penitent and pious might be
rewarded for church-going by consumption. The Cremona and Lucca churches
compromise: “Out of respect for the house of God and for hygiene please
do not spit on the pavement.” In Verona the formula is practically the
same: “Decency and hygiene forbid to spit on the pavement.” In Bologna
the modern autocosm was, I gather, even more victorious, for in time of
plague, some frescoes in S. Petronio were whitewashed over. I trust for
the sake of symbolic completeness these were frescoes of St. Sebastian
and St. Rocco, the protective plague-saints.

A false cosmos, I said, like a false coin, may be as useful as a true
one, so long as it is believed in. As long as the attrition of the
macrocosm outside does not wear a hole in the Catholic autocosm, it will
keep its spheric inflation. For there is nothing to wear a hole from
inside, nothing contrary to pure reason, nothing inconsistent with
something else. There is no _à priori_ reason why saints should not
control the chain of causation by spiritual forces as engineers and
doctors control it by physical forces at the bidding of intelligence.
There is no formal ground for denying that penitence puts cholera to
flight. It is merely a matter of experience—and even Popes and
Cardinals remove to cooler places when the pest breaks out at Rome.
There is no conceptual reason why there should not be a Purgatory, nor
why masses and alms for the dead (or still more the emotions of love and
remorse which these represent) should not enable us to assist the
posthumous destinies of those we have lost, nor why our sainted dead
should be cut off from all fresh influence upon our lives. It seems
indeed monstrous that they should pass beyond our yearning affection. In
these and other things the Catholic autocosm gives hints to the Creator
and shows how the “sorry scheme of things” may be moulded “nearer to the
heart’s desire.” Nor is there any reason why there should not be a
Trinity or a vicarious Atonement. These concepts, indeed, explain
_obscurum per obscurius_—

        “No light but rather darkness visible—”

and seem less natural and more complicated than the Jewish theory of a
divine unity and a personal human responsibility. But complexity and
incomprehensibility are not proofs of falsity. Tertullian, indeed, in
his great lyric cry of faith, would make them proofs of truth. _Certum
est quia impossibile est._ And it may be conceded to Tertullian that in
a universe of mystery all compact, the word of the enigma can scarcely
be a platitude. But there is a limit to this comfortable canon.
Impossibility can only continue a source of certitude so long as
transcendental theological conceptions are concerned. But when, leaving
the tenuous empyrean of metaphysics, the Impossible incarnates itself
upon earth, it must stand or fall by our terrestrial tests of historic
happening, and the canon should rather run: Providing it has really
happened, its mere impossibility does not diminish its certitude. So
that, _per contra_, if it never happened at all, its mere impossibility
cannot guarantee it. Impossibility is a quality it shares with an
infinite number of propositions, and if it wishes to single itself out
from the crowd, it must seek extraneous witnesses to character. And if
it fails in this quest, its impossibility will not save it. We may
believe the _un_proved, but not the _dis_proved. The true interpretation
of the universe must be incomprehensible, _my_ interpretation is
incomprehensible, therefore _my_ interpretation is true—what tyro in
the logics will not at a leap recognise the fallacy of the undistributed
middle? Yet on this basis rest innumerable volumes of apologetics.

Nay, Sir Thomas Browne himself fell into this “Vulgar Error.”
“Methinks,” he cries, basing himself upon Tertullian, “there be not
impossibilities enough in Religion for an active faith . . . I love to
lose myself in a mystery, to pursue my Reason to an _O altitudo_!” As if
“_O altitudo_” is not pursuable by the simplest pagan, following the
maze of Space and Time. The author of “Religio Medici” confesses that
certain things in Genesis contradict Experience and History, but he
adds: “Yet I do believe all this is true, which indeed, my Reason would
persuade me to be false; and this I think is no vulgar part of Faith, to
believe a thing not only above, but contrary to Reason and against the
Arguments of our proper Senses.” Pardon me, esteemed Sir Thomas. It is
precisely _the_ vulgar part of Faith—_Religio Populi_! It is putting
the disproved and disprovable on the same plane as the unproved and the
unprovable, where alone the ecstasy of the _O altitudo_ may be
legitimately pursued.

The friction between the Bible and Science has grown raspier since Sir
Thomas’s day, and by a new turn in human folly we are told that Science
is bankrupt—with the implication that _therefore_ the Bible is solvent.
Poor old autocosms! They are _both_ bankrupt, alas! Neither the ancient
Bible nor the twentieth century Science can pay twenty shillings in the
pound. Not that the Bible cannot meet its creditors honourably, nor that
Science will not be permitted to go on dealing. The salvage from both is
considerable. But neither can afford an autocosm in which the modern
intellect can breathe and the modern soul aspire.

Nor was such work ever within the capacity of Science. She, the handmaid
of religion, forgot her place when she aspired to the pulpit. And
religion, with Time and Space and Love and Death for texts around her,
stepped down from hers when she persisted in preaching from withered
parchments of ambiguous tenor and uncertain authorship. What can be more
pathetic than the joy of orthodoxy when the pick strikes some Old
Testament tablet and it is discovered that there really was an Abraham
or a Lot. As well might a neo-Pagan exult because the excavations in
Crete prove that the Minotaur really existed—but as a fighting bull to
which toreadors imported from conquered Athens sometimes fell victims.
Not even Lot’s wife supplies sufficient salt to swallow Genesis with.
The Old Testament autocosm is dead and buried—it cannot be dug up again
by the Palestine Exploration Fund. It is no longer literally true, even
in the Vatican, where, if I understand aright, only the miracles of the
New Testament still preserve their authenticity.

“Things are what they are, and the consequences will be what they will
be,” as the much-deluded Butler remarked. Wherefore, though you imagine
yourself living in your autocosm, you are in truth inhabiting the
macrocosm all the time and obnoxious to all its curious laws and
inflexible realities. It is as if, playing cards in the smoking-room of
a ship and fancying yourself at the club, you should be suddenly
drowned. Only by living in the macrocosm itself can you avoid the stern
surprises which await those who snuggle into autocosms. Hence the perils
of the Catholic autocosm for its inhabitants. For in the real universe
pestilences and earthquakes are not due to the wrath of God. The
physical universe proceeds on its own lines, and the religious motives
of the Crusaders did not prevent a Christian host from dying of the
putrefying infidel corpses which it had manufactured so abundantly. Nor
did heaven endorse the theory of the Children’s Crusade—that innocence
could accomplish what was impossible for flawed manhood. The poor
innocents perished like flies, or were sold into slavery. These things
take their course as imperturbably as Halley’s comet, which refused to
budge an inch even before the fulminations of Pope Callixtus III. Nor is
the intermission of earthquakes or pestilence to be procured by the
intercession of the saints or by the efficacy of their relics. A phial
of the blood of Christ was carried about in Mantua during the plague of
1630, but there were not enough boats to carry away the corpses to the
lakes. It was those marshes round Mantua that should have been drained.
But it is in vain God thunders, “Thus and thus are My Laws. I am that I
am.” Impious Faith answers, “Not so. Thou art that Thou art not.”

Pestilence—we know to-day—can be averted by closing the open cesspools
and opening the sunless alleys of mediævalism; malaria can be minimised
by minimising mosquitos, and earthquakes can be baffled by careful
building after the fashion of Japan, which, being an earthquake country,
behaves as such. After the Messina earthquake the Japanese Government
sent two professors—one of seismology and the other of architecture—to
study it and to compare it with the great Japanese earthquake of 1891,
and they reported that although the Japanese shock was greater and the
population affected more numerous, the number of Italian victims was
_four hundred and thirty times_ as great as the number of Japanese, and
that “about 998 out of 1000 of the number killed in Messina must be
regarded as having fallen victims to the seismologically bad
construction of the houses.” But where reliance is placed on
paternosters and penitence, how shall there be equal zeal for
antiseptics or structural precautions? The censer tends to oust the
fumigator, and the priest the man of action. “Too easily resigned and
too blindly hopeful,” says the _Messagero_ of Rome, commenting on the
chaos that still reigns among the population of Messina.

“Trust in God and keep your powder dry” was the maxim of a Protestant.
Cromwell but echoed the Psalmist, “Blessed be the Lord my strength,
which teacheth my hands to war and my fingers to fight.” This is the
spirit that makes the best of both cosms. The too trustful denizen of
the Catholic autocosm with his damp powder and his flaccid fingers risks
falling a prey to the first foe.

But the balance-sheet is not yet complete. For it may be better to live
without sanitation or structural precaution and to die at forty of the
plague or the earthquake, after years of belief in your saint or your
star, than to live a century without God in a bleak universe of
mechanical law. True, the believer has the fear of hell, but by a happy
insanity it does not interfere with his _joie de vivre_. He has had,
indeed, to pay dearly for the consolation and courage the Church has
sold him—since we are at the balance-sheet let this be said too—and
seeing how in the last analysis all this overwhelming ecclesiastic
splendour has come out of the toil of the masses, I cannot help
wondering whether the Church could not have done the thing cheaper. Were
these glittering vestments and soaring columns so absolutely essential
to the cult of the manger-born God?

But perhaps it was the People’s only chance of Magnificence. And after
all the mediæval cathedrals were as much public assembly rooms as
churches.

Dear wrinkled _contadine_ whom I see prostrated in chapels before your
therapeutic saints; dear gnarled _facchini_ whose shoulders bow beneath
the gentler burden of adoration; poor world-worn beings whom I watch
genuflecting and sprinkling yourselves with the water of life, as the
spacious hush and the roseate dimness of the great cathedral fall round
you; and you, proud young Venetian housewife, whose baby was carried to
baptism in a sort of cage, and who turned to me with that heavenly smile
after the dipping and that rapturous cry, “_Ora essa è una piccola
Cristiana!_”—and most of all you, heart-stricken mothers whose little
ones have gone up to play with the Madonna’s _bambino_, think ye I would
prick your autocosm with my quill or withdraw one single ray from the
haloes of your guardian genii? Nay, I pray that in that foreign land of
death to which we must all emigrate, ye may find more Christian
consideration than meets the emigrants to England or America. May your
Christ be waiting at the haven ready to protect you against the
exactions of Charon, to rescue you from the crimps, and initiate you
into the alien life. Only one thing I ask of you—do not, I pray you in
return, burn up _my_ autocosm—and me with it. And ye, gentlemen of the
cassock and the tonsure, continue, unmolested by me, your processions
and your pageants and your mystic operas and ballets, your drinking
ceremonials and serviette-wipings; for, bland and fatherly as you seem,
you are the fiercest incendiaries the world has ever known—the arson of
rival autocosms your favourite virtue. And I am not of those who hold
your power or passion extinct. Even in your ashes live your wonted
fires, and I may yet see the pyres of Smithfield blaze as in the days of
Mary. For to hold the keys of Heaven and Hell is as unsettling as any
other form of monopoly. Human nature cannot stand it. And by every
channel, apert or subterranean, you are creeping back to power, carrying
through all your labyrinths that terrible torch of faith. Already relics
have been borne in procession at Westminster. But perhaps I wrong you.
Perhaps your very Inquisition will make some concession to science and
the age, and electrocute instead of burning.

But though ye burn me or electrocute, yet must I praise your Church for
its three great principles of Democracy, Cosmopolitanism, and Female
Equality. At the apogee of its splendour, in the days before its
autocosm contradicted the known macrocosm, it made a brotherhood of Man
and a United States of Europe, and St. Catherine and St. Clara ranked
with St. Francis and St. Dominic. What can be more wonderful than that
an English menial, plain Nicholas Breakspeare, should rise into Pope
Adrian IV, and should crown Barbarossa at Rome as Emperor of the Holy
Roman Empire, or that when this Empire’s fourth Henry must fain go to
Canossa, it was the reputed son of a carpenter that kept him waiting
barefooted in the snow? Contrast all this with the commercial
chauvinism, the snobbery, and the Mussulman disdain of woman into which
Europe has fallen since the “Dark Ages.”

I grant that the Papacy was as far from ensuring a human brotherhood as
the Holy Roman Empire was from the ideal of Petrarch, yet both
institutions kept the ideal of a unity of civilisation alive, and if
they did not realise it better, was it not because two institutions
aiming at the same unification are already a disturbing duality? The
situation under which the Emperor elected the Pope who consecrated the
Emperor, or the Pope excommunicated the Emperor who deposed the Pope and
elected an anti-Pope, was positively Gilbertian, and the grim comedy
reached its climax when Pope and anti-Pope used their respective
churches as fortresses. The old duel persists to-day in the tug-of-war
between Court and Vatican, and the Pope is so little a force for
unification that he still refuses to recognise the unity of Italy. Yet
no ironies of history can destroy the beauty of the Catholic concept.

        “I lift mine eyes and all the windows blaze
         With forms of Saints and holy men who died,
         Here martyred and hereafter glorified;
         And the great Rose upon its leaves displays
         Christ’s Triumph, and the angelic roundelays,
         With splendour upon splendour multiplied;
         And Beatrice again at Dante’s side
         No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise.

        “And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs
         Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love
         And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;
         And the melodious bells among the spires
         O’er all the house-tops and through heaven above
         Proclaim the elevation of the Host.”

That is the Catholic autocosm at its loveliest, as seen by the poet of
the Pilgrim Fathers when under the spell of translating Dante. And ’tis,
indeed, no untrue vision of its ideal.

I saw an old statue of St. Zeno in his church at Verona, and the saint,
who began life as a fisherman, appeared as proud of his fish pendent as
of his crozier. Can one imagine a British bishop in a fishmonger’s
apron? Even the Apostles are doubtless conceived at the Athenæum Club as
a sort of Fishmongers’ Company, with an old hall and a ’scutcheon. For
England combines with her distrust of High Church a ritual of High Life,
which is the most meticulous and sacrosanct in the world.

Nor is there any record of a British bishop behaving like St. Zeno when
the Emperor Gallienus gave him the crown from off his own head, and the
saint requested permission to sell it for the benefit of the poor. True,
British bishops are not in the habit of exorcising demons from the
daughters of emperors, but neither are they in the habit of dividing
their stipends among curates with large families.

St. Zeno, by the way, came from Mauretania, and St. Antony was not
really of Padua, but of Portugal. ’Twas a free trade in saints. There
was no protection against protectors. Virgil and Boëthius themselves
enjoyed a Christian reputation. One does not wonder that even Buddha
crept into the calendar by an inspired error. It is heartening to come
on an altar in Verona to St. Remigio, “apostle of the generous nation of
the French,” to find Lucca Cathedral given over to an Irish saint and
honouring a Scotch king (“San Riccardo, Re di Scozia”), and to read of
King Canute treating with Pope John and Emperor Conrad for free Alpine
passes to Rome for English pilgrims. Universities too were really
universal. The Angelic Doctor was equally at home in Naples, Paris, and
Cologne.

What can be more nobly catholic than the prayer I found pasted outside
Italian churches: “My God, I offer Thee all the masses which are being
celebrated to-day in all the world for the sinners who are in agony and
who must die to-day. May the most precious Blood of Jesus the Redeemer
obtain for them mercy!” True, the poetry of this prayer is rather marred
by the precise information that “every day in the universe about 140,000
persons die: 97 every minute, 51 millions every year,” but not so
grossly as by the indulgences accorded to the utterers. Why must this
fine altruism be thus tainted? But alas! Catholicism perpetually appears
the caricature of a great concept. Take for another example the methods
of canonisation, by which he or she who dies “in the odour of piety” may
pass, in the course of centuries, from the degree of venerable servant
of God to the apogee of blessed saintship. What can be grander than this
notion of taking all time as all earth for the Church’s province? Yet
consider the final test. The great souls she has produced must work two
posthumous miracles, forsooth, before they can be esteemed saints. By
what a perversion of the spiritual is it that holiness has come to be on
a par with pills! Surely a true Church Universal should canonise for
goodness of life, not for mortuary miracles. Joan of Arc, who must wait
nigh five hundred years for saintship—did not the miracle of her life
outweigh any possible prowess of her relics?

But despite, or rather because of, this grossness, the walls of the
Catholic autocosm are still stout: centuries of friction with the
macrocosm will be needed to wear them away. The love of noble ritual and
noble buildings, of ordered fasts and feasts, of authority absolute; the
comfortable concreteness of Orthodoxy beside the nebulousness of
Modernism; the sinfulness of humanity, its helplessness before the
tragic mysteries of life and death; the peace of confession, the
therapeia of chance and hypnotism, the magnetism of a secular tradition,
the _vis inertiæ_—all these are pillars of the mighty fabric of St.
Peter. But even these would be as reeds but for the massive prop of
endowments. ’Tis Mortmain—the dead hand—that keeps back Modernism. So
long as any institution possesses funds, there will never be any lack of
persons to administer them. This is the secret of all successful
foundations. The rock on which the Church is founded is a gold-reef. And
it is actively defended by Persecution and the Index, by which all
thought is equally excluded, be it a Darwin’s or a Gioberti’s, a Zola’s
or a Tyrrell’s. Who then shall set a term to its stability?

With such a marvellous machinery at hand for the Church Universal of the
future—so democratic, so cosmopolitan, so free from sex injustice—it
seems a thousand pities that there is nothing to be done with it but to
scrap it. Surely it should be adapted to the macrocosm, brought into
harmony with the modern mind, so that, becoming again the mistress of
our distracted and divided world, moderating the frenzy of nationalisms
by a European cult and a European culture, keeping in their place the
mediocrities who are seated on our thrones, and the democracies when
they stray from wisdom, it could send out a true blessing _urbi et
orbi_. But this, I remember, is an Italian fantasy.



       OF FACTS WITHOUT AUTOCOSMS: OR THE IRRELEVANCY OF SCIENCE


I did not need the lesson of the Scala ballet—Civiltà inspired by Luce
and chasing Tenebre. I know that that light is electric. Have I not
found it in the deepest crypt of the underground cathedral of Brescia,
illuminating the two Corinthian pillars from the Temple of Vespasius?
Have I not seen in the quaint sleepy alleys of rock-set Orvieto the
wayside shrine of the Madonna utilised to hold an electric lamp? And
have I not seen that ancient marble shrine between Carrara and Avenza
supporting the telegraph wires, or the crumbling tower of Lucca the
telephones? And did I not watch the thousand-year-old cathedral of
Genoa—with St. Lorenzo’s martyrdom on its façade—preparing to
celebrate the fourth centenary of St. Caterina—“whose mortal remains in
their urn have not felt the injury of time”—by a thorough cleansing
with a vacuum cleaner? Ceaselessly throbbed the engine, like the purr of
a pious congregation, and the hose extended to the uttermost ledges of
the roof, sucking in dust immemorially undisturbed. And the cathedral
clock of Verona that looks down on Charlemagne’s paladins, Roland and
Oliver, in rude stone—did it not tell me the correct time? Yes, ’tis
the hour of Science.

And the contribution of Italy to Science is almost as great as her
contribution to Art or Religion. A country that can produce St. Francis,
Michelangelo, and Galileo, that founded at Verona the first geological
museum and at Pisa the first botanical garden, has indeed all winds of
the spirit blowing through her. But except in Da Vinci, Art and Science
have not been able to lodge together. Him the sketches for his
flying-machines in the Ambrosian library make a boon-fellow of Wright,
Voisin, and Santos, as Luca Beltrami enthusiastically proclaims. Galileo
had some pretensions to letters, writing essays and verses, and is even
suspected of a comedy. But the life of Galileo practically divides
Italy’s art period from her scientific, so far at least as the material
arts are concerned. His amanuensis, Torricelli, preluded the barometer,
and the creation of electrical science by Galvani and Volta was a main
factor in the evolution of our modern world of machinery. Venice and
Florence founded statistical science, and if Sicily and South Italy have
relapsed from the Arabic-Aristotelian stimulus administered by Frederick
II—perhaps for fear of sharing the imperial Epicurean’s furnace in the
Sixth Circle of the Inferno—North Italy has remained a pioneer of the
modern. It is not by accident that Marconi was born in Bologna, or
Lombroso in Verona—which is to hold his statue—or that the most
learned exponent of the dismal science of our day has been Luigi Cossa,
Professor of Political Economy in the Universities of Pavia and Milan.
But even Naples and Palermo have remained faithful to astronomy and the
mathematics.

Far be it from me to say a word against Science as a magnified magical
maid-of-all-work! But in so far as she pretends to set up in the
parlour, ousting her old mistresses, Theology and Poetry, let me point
out to her swains, the electro-plated youth of Lombardy, that the facts
of Science, existing as they do outside autocosms, are as substantial to
lean upon as the shadows of reeds. Of the need of a _Scientia
Scientiarum_ to put all these facts in their place, the average
scientific specialist is as unconscious as a ploughboy of the calculus.

For it follows from the doctrine of autocosms that a fact cannot exist
as such till it has settled to which autocosm it belongs. It must be
born into the world of meaning. The same raw material may go to form
part of autocosms innumerable, as the same man may be the butler at a
duke’s, the guest of honour at a grocer’s, and the chief dish at a
cannibal banquet. The same fire that beacons a ship from destruction
sucks a moth to its doom, and the same election figures scatter at once
delight and despair. The “fact,” outside an autocosm, can only be
regarded as a potentiality of entering into ratios; in other words, it
is a “rational” possibility. But since there is a definite limit to its
possibilities, and an election result cannot glut the cannibal appetite,
nor a butler operate as a beacon-fire—except in the way of Ridley and
Latimer—we are compelled to recognise an obstinate objective element
fatal to the Pragmatic Philosophy. Potential facts are stubborn things.
Pragmatism was a healthy reaction against the obsession of a world
wholly gaugeable by Reason, like the reaction of Duns Scotus against
Aquinas, but when it replaced Reason by Will, it fell into the other
extreme of error. _Both_ Reason and Will must enter into the Science of
Sciences, and they must even be supplemented by Emotion.

For the human consciousness, our sole instrument for apprehending the
world, is trinitarian. I should say we have three antennæ—Reason, Will,
Emotion—wherewith to grope out into our environment, were it not that
those antennæ are triune, and no knowledge of the outer world ever comes
to us save with all the three factors intertwined in varying
proportions. Why then should we throw away all that Will and Emotion
tell us, putting asunder what God has put together? To represent the
Report of the bare intellectual faculty as the Report of the whole
Commission is fraudulence. Will and Emotion have too meekly contented
themselves with a Minority Report. It is time they insisted on their
views colouring and fusing into the Report Proper. Even Kant, having
reached spiritual bankruptcy by his “Critique of Pure Reason,”
apologetically called in the Practical Reason to save the situation,
thereby importing into his system an absurd dualism. Kant’s Practical
Reason is simply Will and Emotion restored to their proper rank as
conjoint antennæ of apprehension. The effort to probe the universe with
an isolated antenna was foredoomed to failure. The Practical Reason
should have been called in, not after the bankruptcy as a sort of
receiver to make the best of a bad estate, but before starting
operations, as a partner with additional capital.

A fact, then, to be a fact, must be born into an autocosm, must be
caught up not only into intellectual perception, but into emotional and
volitional relations. The so-called scientific fact is thus two-thirds
unborn. It is not a fact, but a facet of a fact. ’Tis only by a
shorthand convention, indeed, that anything can be treated as purely an
object of intellectual discrimination. Every substantive in the
dictionary is a shrivelled leaf which requires the sap and greenness of
a living sentence to restore it to life. This is best seen in words with
more than one meaning, like “bark,” which needs to be in a sentence to
show whether it is canine or marine. But every word is in the same
ambiguous case, and acquires its nuance from its relations with life.
The molecule or structural unit of reality being thus triune, it is
obvious that the isolated presentation of the material aspect of things
in the shape of words under the name of Science can never be a
presentation of Truth. It is a mere abstraction from the trinitarian
wholeness of experience. Full life exists in three dimensions, Art in
two, and Science in one, like a solid, a superficies, and a line, and
the line as little reproduces the plenitude of being as the coast-line
of a map the beetling cliffs and thundering seas.

But the subject-matter of the sciences is not even the universe treated
as a material whole, but the universe cut up into abstract ’ologies and
’onomies, each of which insidiously tends to swell into a full-seeming
sphere of Truth, as when Political Economy, having proved that Free
Trade produces the cheapest article, tends to assume that humanity is
therefore _bound_ to buy in the cheapest market; so that even the Tariff
Reformer, under the same hypnosis, seeks to deny this economic law,
instead of admitting and overriding it by considerations from
supplementary spheres of Truth. Similar fallacies spring from pathology,
psychology, physiology, criminology, and other methods of vivisecting
our noble selves. We are parcelled out among the professors, each of
them magnifying his office.

        “Hark, hark, the lark at Heaven’s gate sings!”

says the beautiful song in _Cymbeline_. The sciences pounce upon that
lark like hawks, and tear it to pieces between them. But the truth about
the lark—is it in the unreal abstractions of the sciences, or is it in
the poet’s perception of the lark in all the fulness, colour, and
richness of actual existence?

The little Gradgrinds, says Dickens, had cabinets in various departments
of science. “They had a little chronological cabinet, and a little
metallurgical cabinet, and a little mineralogical cabinet, and the
specimens were all arranged and labelled, and the bits of stones and ore
looked as though they might have been broken off from the parent
substances by those tremendously hard instruments, their own names.”

But it is only in the falsificatory museums of science that things exist
in little cabinets, or that the butterfly is impaled on a pin and ranged
in a glass case with other _Lepidoptera_. In the real universe it
flutters alone amid the flowers. It is full of its own vivid life; it
does not know it has been classified. This classification exists only in
some student’s mind; the truth is in the fluttering butterfly. And Truth
really flutters like a butterfly, free and joyous, winged with
iridescent splendours and subtle shades. Truth is not a dead formula,
but an airy aliveness.

When I was a youth studying mathematics and the ’ologies, I became
infected with the sense of superiority to the crowd which these pursuits
bring: such cold, logical reasoning, such rare reaches of thought! To
think that men eminent in these branches should remain unrewarded by
popular fame, while every petty scribbler with a gift of invention
commanded the applause of the mob! To be a novelist seemed a paltry
affair; yet later on I came to recognise that the crowd is right, and
that those who decry the predominance of the novel are wrong. All these
sciences and speculations deal with human life, not in its living
fulness, but with an abstractness which makes it dead, unreal, false.
The world’s instinctive distrust of pedants and students and
mathematicians is justified. They isolate one aspect of life, one thread
of the tangled skein, one _motif_ in the eternal symphony, and sometimes
drawing from reality the merest shred of tune, execute upon it an
enormous fantasia—as in the higher mathematics—which plays itself out
inaudibly _in vacuo_. The cold perfection of mathematics is due to our
having eliminated in advance all the accidents of reality, and even the
supposed infallibility of the proposition that two and two are four
shatters itself upon the futility of adding two elephants to two
speeches on the Irish question. And yet in those callow days it was to
Number that I, like Pythagoras, was fain to look for the key of the
riddle. But that was under the glittering spell of the late Monsieur
Taine, who well-nigh persuaded me that a Science was only truly
Scientific when it passed from the qualitative to the quantitative
stage. If you could only express everything by mathematical formulæ,
then at last you would catch that shy bird, Truth, by the tail. Strip
away Truth’s feathers, then the flesh, then even the bones, till you get
a meaningless world of imaginary atoms, and that, forsooth, is the
ultimate Truth. “The universe,” said Taine triumphantly, “will one day
be expressed in mathematical formulæ.” In other words, strip away all
there is to know, get rid of all that interests you, the colour and the
form and the glow of life, and then you will really know the thing. The
only way to know a thing is elaborately to prevent yourself from knowing
it.

That invaluable institution the Post Office annually provides us with
statistics. So many billion letters are sent a year, so many postcards,
so many packages, and of these so many are left open, and so many
unaddressed or unstamped, and so many go astray. These figures have as
much to do with the realities implied in this correspondence as the
figures of the quantitative sciences with the realities they are drawn
from. Even could it be proved that the ratio of unaddressed letters to
addressed is constant over a given area, or that the percentage of
postcards varies inversely with the status of the senders, how much
nearer are we to the hot passions and wild despairs, the commercial
greeds and the loving humours which are the actuality of the phenomena
under calculation?

Even the lines and angles of geometry, which have more body than
statistics, are a poor substitute for the full, rich world, with its
forests and skies. Mathematics may be indispensable to navigation, but
on the sea of life we sail very well without it. Some of the most
charming women I know count on their fingers. When

        “A Rosalind-face at the lattice shows,
                   *        *       *
         And Sir Romeo sticks in his ear a rose,”

it is indifferent to the situation that the rose is compact of chemical
atoms dancing in complex figures, setting to partners, visiting and
retreating.

Biron in “Love’s Labour Lost,” professing to derive his learning from
women’s eyes, which are

                  “the ground, the books, the academes,
        From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire,”

was, though the sentiment may be unpopular in this educational age,
wiser than Faust in his study soliloquising on the curse of useless
learning. Many of the statements of science are true for the abstract
logical faculty; they are not actually conceivable. We laugh at the
mediæval controversies as to how many angels could dance on the point of
a needle, but surely our modern theory of the atomic constitution of the
needle-point justifies the question. One angel per atom would exhaust
the angelic hosts. Perhaps the sparks emitted for years by one drop of
bromide of radium on the point of a needle are really a dance of demons.
Or take the undulatory theory of light—that to produce the varying
colours of the spectrum the luminiferous ether must vibrate from 458 to
727 million of million times per second. It might as well have been a
thousand billions or ten trillions for all the difference to our
understanding. To give us such figures is like offering a million-pound
note to an omnibus conductor and expecting change. The best scientists
admit that these conceptions are but working hypotheses. Nay, I find a
worthy German actually calling them “useful fictions.” Indeed, they
cannot endure cross-examination, and if you want to see a scientific man
as angry as a theologian of the Inquisition era, you will treat his
mystic conceptions as Tom Paine treated the mysteries of religion. The
world went very well ere we knew the fairy-tales of science and learned
to dread death in every breath we took, every crumb we ate, every drop
of non-alcoholic drink we drank. As if it were not tragic enough to read
the newspapers, we are harassed with the life-histories of insects
invisible to the naked eye, thirty generations or so of which live and
die every day in a drop of ditch-water. At the same time such surface
questions as why a man lives six times as long as a dog and a tortoise
six times as long as a man are left in absolute darkness.

Men of science are to be admired for their patient and fearless groping
after knowledge, the only reward of which is the applause of that
splendid international brotherhood of learning. But this knowledge of
theirs is never more than raw material for the philosopher at the centre
to weave into his synopsis. No doubt there are men of science who
preserve their perspective, who do not view the universe as heaven-sent
material for a series of text-books, but this part of their thinking is
done, not as scientists, but as poets or philosophers. Classification is
all that Science Proper can do, and when the pigeon-holing is complete
to the last Z, the universe will remain as mysterious as before. When
the astronomers have determined the size, weight, orbit, speed, and
spectrum lines of all the four hundred millions of visible stars, we
shall still look up and say,

        “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
         _How_ I wonder what you are!”

But this pigeon-holing of the universe by Science is conspicuously
_in_complete. For by a paradoxical modesty the man of science too often
forgets to include himself in the inventory.

In this way Herbert Spencer explained everything—except Herbert
Spencer. Possibly the forgetfulness is wilful, because the existence of
the man of science upsets so many of his explanations. “I find in the
Universe no trace of Will or Reason,” protested one of them to me. “I
see only the blind movement of forces, mechanical as billiard-balls.”
“Naturally,” I retorted, “if you omit to look in the one direction where
Reason and Will assuredly exist—in your own self.”

On the physical plane we get movement without will, on the animal plane
the will to live, on the human plane the will to live divinely. These
three strata cannot be reduced to a lowest common denominator of blind
force. And if they could, the miracle of their differentiation would
still remain. That blind forces should rise to consciousness and write
books about themselves is even more wonderful than an eternity of
spirit. Reduce all the seventy odd elements to one, as Chemistry hopes,
and instead of an explanation you will only get the new puzzle of how
the one could contain the seeds of the many. Even the popular Evolution
theory is but a juggling with time. You do not get rid of Creation by
shifting the beginning back to a billion years last Tuesday.

And with all my admiration for the fine qualities of the man of science
I cannot away with his cocksureness, so curiously proof against the fact
that scientific conceptions are always changing—witness the revolution
wrought by radium. Even such a simple analysis as the composition of air
has taken in many new and important constituents—argon, xenon, helium,
krypton, neon, &c.—since the days when as a schoolboy I got full marks
for stating them inaccurately. And yet to this day the scientist
recounting the constituents of air forgets to wind up, “With power to
add to their number.”

As for those sciences which do not depend on intellectual conceptions
and practical experiments, but on antiquarian research, those learned
and dry-as-dust studies which academies delight to honour, they owe all
their importance simply to antiquity’s lack of self-consciousness and
its failure to provide for the curiosity of posterity. Had the first man
who evolved from the ape drawn up a note upon his ancestor, or, better
still, made a picture of his ancestral tree, what controversies we
should have been spared! Had the builders of the Pyramids or the delvers
of the Roman catacombs put up little tablets to explain their ideas,
what scholarship would have been nipped in the bud! The reputation of
the Egyptologists depends on the fact that the writers of hieroglyphics
apparently left no dictionary. If one were to turn up, the reputation of
these savants would be gone. At present they are able to translate the
same text by “The King went a-hunting” or “My grandmother is dead”
without ceasing to be taken seriously.

But it is in the realm of Italian art-connoisseurship that the greatest
havoc would be wrought did an official catalogue come to light, say in
one of the recesses of the Vatican or in that wilderness of the Venetian
archives. For the lordly neglect of the Old Masters to put their names
to their pictures has flooded us with a tedious pedantry of rival
attributions, and the thing of beauty, instead of being a joy for ever,
is an eternal source of dulness.

“Ass who attributes it to Mantegna,” I saw scribbled on a fresco, at
Padua, of St. Antony admonishing Ezzelino, and connoisseurship is merely
politer. As long ago as 1527 a quiz or a braggart of an artist, Zacchia
da Vezzano, painted underneath a sacred picture of his, now in Lucca:

        “His operis visis hujus cognoscere quis sit
         Auctorem dempto nomine quisque potest.”

As who should say, “Take away the name and anybody can tell the artist.”
But experience proves the contrary.

I do not say that the virtuosi would all be exposed, as by the pedigree
of a Da Vinci bust, could we light on a source of certainty like the
contemporary slatings in the _Renaissance Review_. Some of these
sleuth-hounds might even be vindicated; and I opine that to you, _amico
mio_, who of thirty-three Titians in a London exhibition pronounced no
less than thirty-two to be hung on false evidence, the discovery of a
set of _Accademia_ catalogues would not be unwelcome. But your career as
a connoisseur would close. Dead too would be the school of Morelli,
collapsed the drapery students and ear-measurers, whose mathematics had,
indeed, as little relation to Art as it has to life.

The Sherlock Holmeses of Science and Art dig up old cities, reconstruct
forgotten civilisations, redistribute famous pictures, and amend corrupt
texts or corrupt them more hopelessly. It is but rarely that they have
imaginative and historic insight. “Learning is but an adjunct to
ourselves,” says Biron. Scholars are too often but an adjunct to
learning. For men with real insight there are enough dead civilisations
and forgotten customs still flourishing all about us. The taboo, the
fetish, the totem, the oracle, and the myth are the very atmosphere of
our being.

Our generation will leave newspapers and museums—nay, gramophone
records and the films of bioscopes; the ghosts of our shapes and voices
will haunt our posterity, and the only chance for scholars will be to
condense the too, too ample materials—there are four miles of novels
already in the British Museum—or perhaps a few beneficent fires will
give scholarship a new lease of life. At their best and richest
antiquarian studies only help to make the past present again, but how
does that help us in essential insight? The past of to-morrow is here
to-day and we are no wiser. In the hundredth century the excavator may
exhume London, but we see London even more clearly to-day, and how does
that help us in the real problems?

No; the only help for us lies in those elements of Truth which we draw
from ourselves, not receive from without—in those emotional and
volitional contacts with the essence of things which accompany all
intellectual perception; in these motor aspects of reality which drive
us along, these flashes of faith and spiritual intuition which, although
they may vary from age to age under the spell of individual poets and
prophets, and under the evolution of knowledge and civilisation,

        “Are yet a master-light of all our seeing.”

They may have been intertwined with incorrect intellectual elements, but
because one antenna of the apparatus of consciousness functions falsely
we are not therefore justified in wholly rejecting the joint report.
When we think of the vast number of contradictory truths by which men in
all ages and countries have lived and died, we shall find consolation in
the thought that the emotional and volitional elements of Truth are more
important than its intellectual skeleton.

But what a curious confusion that these emotional and volitional
elements should themselves come to be treated as intellectual, and
desiccated into dogmas! This is the result of their seeking expression
in words, that unsuitable, impossible and fading medium. It is through
their felicitous escape from words that verbally inarticulate artists
and musicians paint and compose truer things than philosophers say,
things that survive vicissitudes of thought and are as true to-morrow as
yesterday. With the music of the Roman Catholic Church we all agree, and
who shall contradict the Venus of Milo?

Yes, a statue or a symphony is safe from syllogisms, at least until it
gets into the hands of the art critic and the programme-concocter. But
the truth airily embodied in words is at the mercy of system-builders
and deduction-squeezers. Taken with the hard definiteness of coins—as
if, indeed, even coins did not vary from day to day in purchasing power
and according to the country of circulation,—the words are added
together to yield a specific sum of truth. Flying prophetic phrases and
wingèd mystical raptures are shot down and stuffed for Church Catechisms
and Athanasian Creeds. As if the emotional and volitional fringe of
living words permitted them to be thus sterilised into scientific
propositions! For just as facts are the skeletons of truths, so words
are single bones, and the dictionary is a vast ossuary. Talk of the dead
languages—all languages are dead unless spoken, and spoken with real
feeling. A parrot always speaks a dead language. It is the folly of a
universal language that it assumes the same vocabulary could be used
over a vast area of varying conditions, its words never expanding nor
contracting in meaning, nor ever changing in pronunciation or colour. As
if Latin was not once universal in those countries which have gradually
transformed it into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Provençal,
Roumanian, and Rumonsch! Idiomatic expressions cannot be torn from the
soil they grow in. Mañana has not the same meaning outside Spain nor
Kismet outside Islam. Language lays such traps for fools; the fools have
always spoiled and fossilised what the men of genius have felt and
thought. They have made logic out of poetry and have deadened worship
and wonder into theology. “What do you read?” says Hamlet. “Words,
words, words.”

A truth, then, may be formulated, but it is not true till it is felt and
acted on, and ceases to be true when it ceases to be felt and acted on.
Nor does this canon apply only to inner truths. Without an element of
feeling and volition, however shadowy, even the simple realities of the
outer world have never been perceived, and the omission of these
elements invalidates the total reality. If so many readers skip scenery
in novels, ’tis because the scene is described as though it existed in
itself. The dead chunk of landscape bores and depresses. The reader
subconsciously feels that so impersonal a vision is untrue to the
actualities of perception. Nobody has ever seen a landscape without some
emotion, if only the traveller’s desire to be at the other end of it. A
dozen persons—even omitting the colour-blind—would see it in as many
different ways, each with different accompaniments of feeling, thought,
and volition, potential or actual, just as every person in _The Ring and
the Book_ sees Pompilia differently. Let the novelist describe the
scene, not for itself, but for its relation to the emotions and purposes
of his personages, and it leaps into life. Similar is the case of
Science, whose facts in divesting themselves of all emotion and
individual error divest themselves likewise of reality. The dry
scientific coldness with which the universe must be envisaged is an
artificial method of vision. True, the scientist himself may be impelled
by the most tingling curiosity. But the passion and thrill of his chase
for truth does not appear in the quarry: that is a mere carcase. His
report on his speciality is always carefully divested of emotion. But
our emotional and volitional relations to the spectacle of existence are
as much a part of the total truth of things as colour is of the visible
world. The world is not complete without

        “The light that never was on sea or land,
         The consecration and the poet’s dream.”

When Lear cries to the heavens that they too are old, or Lamartine calls
on the lake to remember his happiness, Ruskin would tell us that this
suffusion of Nature with our own emotions is the pathetic fallacy. On
the contrary, its absence is the scientific fallacy. Science registers
the world as the phonograph registers sound or the camera space—without
any emotion of its own. As the former with equal phlegm records a song
or a curse, or the latter a wedding or a funeral, so does Science
register its impassive observations. For once admit such a shifting
subjective factor as emotion, and what becomes of the glorious
objectivity of Science? Away, therefore, with all but the frigid
intellectual view of things! Since the other elements of Truth elude our
grasp, let us boldly declare them irrelevant. The bankruptcy of Science,
you see, comes not at the end of its operations. Science starts
bankrupt. It has not sufficient capital to begin trading. Its methods
and apparatus are entirely inadequate for the attainment of truth. A cat
may look at a king—but its observation will not be very profound. And
Science is as little equipped for observing the universe as the cat for
observing the king. All it can perceive or establish is chains of
causation, or rather recurring sequences of phenomena, in an unconscious
_continuum_. It is a _post-mortem_ investigation to ascertain, not the
cause of death, but the cause of life.

But the universe is not a quaint collection of dead things in a vacuum,
not a museum of stuffed birds or transfixed butterflies, but a
breathing, flying, singing, striving, and suffering process—an
unfinished infinitude. This kinetic process cannot be expressed in terms
of statics. “What is Truth?” says the jesting cosmos, and does not
_stay_ for an answer. But by an artificial abstraction parts of it can
be expressed for the intellect in static ’ologies and ’onomies, on the
understanding that the intellect never forgets to put back its results
into the palpitating flux to which they belong and in which alone they
have true significance. This understanding the intellect too frequently
violates or forgets, and therefore for Truth we must go, not to the man
of science, but to the poet, who registers his universe synthetically
with soul as well as with brain. Tragedy, comedy, heroic drama, sombre
suffering, majestic mystery, all these are in the flux—more surely than
ether waves and dancing atoms—and the poet in painting the fulness of
life with the fulness of his own emotion is giving us a fuller truth
than any that Science can attain to. “We cannot really know the truth
unless we love the truth,” said Fénelon. “They who love well will know
well.” This is not mysticism but common sense, and Goethe repeated it
when he said that “No one can write about anything unless he writes
about it with love.” “To see things in their beauty,” said Matthew
Arnold, “is to see them in their truth.” It may be that the knowledge of
things through pure intellect is pure delusion, that to pigeon-hole the
universe is to make it into a cemetery. Instead of that “love is blind,”
the truth may be that only love sees. There is a sense in which every
mother’s babe _is_ the most beautiful in the world.

Knowledge, then, as a mere function of the intellect, is only the dead
knowledge that appears in school-books. But who shall say that knowledge
was meant to be only a function of the intellect, that we do not know
with our heart and soul as well as with our brains? Nay, as if to mock
at mere intellect, the universe absolutely refuses to yield up its
secret to the intellect. Hence the antinomies of Kant or Mansel or
Plato’s “Parmenides.” Follow up mere thought, however apparently clear,
and it lands us in nonsense. Perhaps wisdom does not lie that way at
all. Perhaps the fear of the Lord is really the beginning of wisdom.

For if Science is Truth in one dimension and Art Truth in two
dimensions, it is only when we complete emotional vision by volition
that we arrive at Truth’s full-orbed reality. Even love cannot bring
wisdom unless the love translates itself into action. In short, the
meaning of Truth must be changed from a dead fact of the intellect into
a live fact of the whole being. The Truth is also the Way and the Life.

Aristotle in his “Metaphysics” tells us that Cratylus carried the
scepticism of Heraclitus to such a degree that he at last was of opinion
one ought to speak of nothing, but merely moved his finger. Aristotle
does not see that in this moving of his finger Cratylus was asserting at
least the volitional element of Truth and perhaps its most important.
For the universe is not a museum, placarded “Look, but please do not
touch.” It says, “Touch, and then you will really see. Live, work, love,
fight, and then you will really know what the nature of your universe
is.”

The world of the physical sciences is only the stage-setting for the
spiritual drama. Though there is a truth of dead things called Science,
the real truth is of live things—a triple truth in which intellect,
will, and emotion are one. Our sense of this truth—obtained as it is
during emotional volition—is individual, irreducible to the simpler
planes of Science and Art, and thus incommunicable. And the measure of
our attainment of it will be the measure of our sympathetic insight and
of the depth to which we have penetrated by action into the heart of the
phenomena. Then what seemed a mass of dull facts may break into music
like a Beethoven score under the baton of a master.

The scientist who should say that a Beethoven symphony consisted of the
atoms of the paper and ink which constitute the score, or even who
expressed it mathematically as a sequence of complex air-vibrations made
by strings and holes, would be talking truth; but as incomplete and
irrelevant truth as the ignoramus who should say it was curious black
strokes and dots on ruled paper, or the statistician who should count
the semi-breves or fortissimo passages. The true truth of the symphony
comes into being only when it is interpreted by the finest performers to
souls whose life it enlarges.

And so with the universe, which is not a dead, complete thing outside of
us, but a palpitating spiritual potentiality, for the fullest truth
about which the co-operation of our own souls is needed, our souls that
create a part of the truth they perceive or aspire to. The universe, in
short, is a magic storehouse from which we may draw—or into which
put—what we will to the extent of our faith, our emotion, our sense of
beauty our righteousness. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye
shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.”



       OF FACTS WITH ALIEN AUTOCOSMS: OR THE FUTILITY OF CULTURE


When I betake me to a zoological garden, equipped with a pennyworth of
popcorn, a food strangely popular even among the carnivora, I am touched
by a prescience of all the pleasure and dumb gratitude to be evoked by
those humble grains. And in truth how many eager caged creatures are
destined to have a joyous thrill of sniffing suspense, followed by the
due titillation of the palate! My proffering fingers shall meet the
gentle nose of the deer, the sensitive arching trunk of the elephant,
the kindly peck of parrots, the mischievous hands of monkeys, the soft
snouts of strange beasts. Not otherwise is it when, faring forth to
Italy, I provision myself with a bag of coin. Into what innumerable
itching tentacles these gilded or cuprous grains are to drop:
white-cuffed hands of waiters, horny digits of _vetturini_ and
_facchini_, gnarled fins of gondoliers and hookers, grimy paws of
beggars, shrivelled stumps of cripples, dexterous toes of armless
ancients, spluttering mouths of divers, rosy fingers of flower-throwing
children, persuasive plates of serenading musicians, deceptive
ticket-holes of dishonest railway clerks, plethoric pockets of
hotel-keepers, greedy tills of bargaining shopkeepers, pious palms of
monks and sacristans, charity-boxes of cathedrals, long-handled
fishing-nets of little churches, musty laps of squatting, mumbling
crones, greasy caps of guides, official pyxes of curators and janitors,
clutching claws of unbidden cicerones. All these—and how many
more!—photographers and painters and copyists and forgers, modellers
and restorers and lecturers on ruins, landlords and cooks and
critics—live by Italy’s ancient art. Great Cæsar dead—and turned to
Show.

The beauty of Italy is elemental fodder for the autochthones; yet how
strange the existence of the Neapolitan swimmer whose _métier_ is to
dive for coppers when the steamer sails for the witching cliffs of
Sorrento, and to cry in enticing gurgles, “Money in the water!” the
spluttering syllables flowing into one another as in the soft _patois_
of Venice! Precisely when the Bay of Naples is a violet dancing flame,
and Vesuvius, majestically couchant, sends her white incense to the
blue, and you are tranced with beauty and sunshine, comes this monetary
merman to drag you down to the depths.

“Nutritive chains” the biologists name the inter-related organisms whose
existence depends on one another, and another link of this chain you
shall count the boatmen waiting to show you the blue grotto of Capri.
Their skiffs dart upon you like creatures whose prey comes only at a
fixed hour; like creatures, moreover, shaped in the struggle for
existence to the only function by which they can survive, for they are
fittest to pass under the low arch of the cerulean grotto (the occupant
consenting to crouch like an antenna drawn in). That ardent water in the
Capri cave—that lovely flame of light blue in a bluer burning
spirit—sustains likewise the naked diver who stands poised on a rock,
ready to show its chromatic effects upon flesh; the culminating moment
of whose day—the feeding-time, as it were—comes when the tourists
glide in.

Apt symbol indeed of the tourist, that shallow skiff skimming over
beauty with which the native is in deep elemental contact, from which,
indeed, he wrests his living.

Since Goethe with his gospel of culture spent those famous _Wanderjahre_
in Italy, a swollen stream of pious art-pilgrims has been pouring over
the land. And coming into Florence from Lucca and a sheaf of quiet
cities on an afternoon of this spring, I had a horrid impression of
modern bustling streets and motors and trams and a great press of
people, and ten thousand parasites battening on the art and beauty of
the city, and it was not till I had won my way to my beloved Ponte
Vecchio, with its mediæval stalls, that the city of the lily seemed to
possess her soul again. Then as I saw her compose herself under her deep
blue sky into a noble harmony, with her heights and her palaces and her
river and her arches and arcades, and group herself round a tower, and
brood in Venetian glamour over her water with her ancient rusty houses,
and rise behind into a fantasy of quaint roofs and brick domes and
steeples and belfries, all floating in a golden glory; and as I
reflected on all she was and held within her narrow compass, how the
names of great men and great days were written on every stone, and how
every sort of art had been poured over her as prodigally as every sort
of earth-beauty; and as I thought of the enchanting villages around and
above her, where the cypress and the olive, the ilex and the pine
slumbered in the sunshine, amid great rocks that shadowed cool glooming
pools, and white roads went winding odorous with may and sweet with the
song of thrush and blackbird, framing and arabesquing the faery city
below in magic tangles of leafy boughs; and as I remembered that here
to-day in this same city was not only spring, but Botticelli’s
_Spring_—then it seemed to me that her flowers and her palaces, her
frescoes and the curves of her hills were pushed up from the same deep
elemental core of beauty, and that she lay like some great princess of
Brobdingnag on whose body a colony of all the culture-snobs of the world
had dumped its masses of raw building, run up its hundreds of hotels and
_pensions_, piled its pyramids of handbooks, biographies, _Dantes_,
histories, essays, landed its hordes of guides and interpreters,
encamped its army of lecturers and art critics, installed its cohort of
copyists, dragged up its heavy battery of professional photographers,
supplemented by an amateur corps of Kodak snapshooters; but that,
breathing lightly beneath all this mountainous cumber, unasphyxiated
even by the works on the Renaissance, she could still rise radiant in
her immortal strength and beauty, shaking off the Lilliputian creatures
and their spawn of print, ungalled by that ceaseless fire of snapshots,
imperturbable amid the lecturing, unimpaired even by all that immemorial
admiration.

The pioneers of this culture-colony blundered sometimes, as pioneers
will, and even Goethe, one notes with malicious glee, spent himself upon
the wrong pictures, gloating over Guercino, wrestling with Caracci,
Guido and Domenichino, and passing Botticelli by, nay taking all
Florence as an afternoon excursion. And Pater himself, the pontifical
Pater, though he has the merit of a Botticelli pioneer, yet thought it
necessary to apologise for criticising “a second-rate painter”: which is
as though one should apologise for discussing Keats.

Nor were Byron and Shelley more felicitous in their admirations. The
_Kunstforscher_, that Being usually made in Germany, has been busy since
their day. Amid the great movement of life, while men have been sowing
and reaping, writing and painting, voyaging and making love, this
spectacled creature has been peering at pictures and statues,
scientifically analysing away their authenticity and often their charm.
There is the Venus de’ Medici, which generations have raved over, which
innumerable processions of tourists have journeyed to admire and found
admirable. The connoisseurs have now pronounced her “spurious and
meretricious,” and to-day nobody who respects himself would allow
himself a thrill at the sight of her. Yet Childe Harold cried:

        “We gaze and turn away, and know not where,
         Dazzled and drunk with beauty, till the heart
         Reels with its fulness.”

I must admit that after the Venus of Milo the beauty of the Medici Venus
does appear a trivial prettiness. But even the Venus of Milo—though we
are still permitted to admire her—is “late and eclectic.”

The unhappy Byron also wrote to somebody: “The Venus is more for
admiration than for love. What struck me most was the mistress of the
Raphael portrait.” Alas! nobody believes now that the picture has
anything to do with La Fornarina.

As for Shelley, when in 1819 he saw at Florence the _Medusa_ attributed
to Leonardo da Vinci, he broke into lyric raptures,

        “Its horror and its beauty are divine,
         Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie
         Loveliness like a shadow, &c. &c.
                   *        *       *
        “’Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror;
         For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare,
         Kindled by that inextricable error! . . .”

Kindled indeed by that inextricable error! For the _Medusa_ is now given
up by every connoisseur. It is a mere inartistic futility and to-day
every lover of the arts must grow stony at the sight of it. That
immortal line “the tempestuous loveliness of terror” is the only thing
to its credit, though some might count, too, the passage in which Pater
gloats over its beauty of conception.

Then there is that little matter of Leonardo’s _St. John_ in the Louvre.
Michelet saw the whole Renaissance in it, and Pater alludes to it as
“one of the few naked figures Leonardo painted,” and builds upon it a
complex theory of Leonardo’s symbolic suggestive method, and is not
surprised at the saint’s “strange likeness to the Bacchus which hangs
near it, which set Théophile Gautier thinking of Heine’s notion of
decayed gods, who, to maintain themselves after the fall of Paganism,
took employment in the new religion.” And now the _St. John_ turns out
to have been a pupil’s or an imitator’s, and probably not even a St.
John.

The culture-pilgrims of to-day, armed with sacred text-books, verbally
infallible, and canonical lists of authentic attributions, enjoy a
suspicious superiority in æsthetic judgment over the greatest creative
artists. For Goethe and Byron and Shelley did at least create, and
Pater’s interpretation of Mona Lisa is finer than the picture itself;
whereas the pursuit of culture in the average pilgrim is a confession of
sterility either in himself or in his own nation, which is not
sufficiently vitalised to absorb his interests. “If the Romans had had
to learn Latin,” said Heine, “they would never have conquered the
world.” And were England free in thought and nobly artistic, there would
be no need of this fervour for the preservation of Greek. Even Goethe,
it is amazing to discover from his “Italiänische Reise,” never saw the
sea till he went to Italy. And his first glimpse of it was, of all
places in the world, at the Lido in Venice! He with the German Ocean to
draw from him, as it drew from Heine, the cry of “Thalassa!”; he who
might have seen how

        “Die weissen Meerkinder
         Hoch aufspringen und jauchzen
         Uebermut-berauscht,”

must fare forth to another land and behold a lazy, almost tideless
lagoon lapping in shallow muddiness on the tamest and dullest shore in
the world. Surely we have here an ironic image of the culture-pilgrim
who sets out to see Art abroad before he has seen Nature at home.

When the Goths besieged Rome, Belisarius hurled down upon them the
statues of the Mausoleum of St. Angelo, and the tomb was turned to a
citadel. But against the siege of Rome by the Goethes there is no known
defence. A rain of statues would merely aggravate their zeal, and the
more hopelessly the statues smashed, the more would their admiration
solidify. So to-day the Goethes and the Huns alike are invited up to see
the statues—for a fee—and every citadel of reality is turned to a
mausoleum-museum. St. Angelo, that has stood the storms of eighteen
centuries, is the perquisite of a facetious warder who gabbles
automatically of Beatrice Cenci, “_la più bella ragazza d’ Italia_,” as
he points out her pitiful, if dubious, dungeon. In the stone cell of the
Florentine monastery, on whose cold flags Savonarola wore his knees in
fasting and prayer, a guide holds up a reflector to concentrate the
light on the frescoes with which Fra Angelico glorified the rude walls.
Where St. Catherine walked—in the footsteps of the Bridegroom—leaving
the marks of her miraculous feet, a buxom native of Siena expects her
obolus. Outside the pyramid-shadowed cemetery where Keats lies under his
heart-broken epitaph, a Roman urchin turns supplicatory somersaults.
_Italia Bella_, a paper published at Milan, adjured Arona to wake up and
celebrate the tercentenary of the canonisation of its Saint Carlo, “if
only because it pays.” History, with its blood and tears, becomes
æsthetics for the tourist and economics for the native. Of a truth
quaint links concatenate Cæsar and the showman, the saint with the
apple-woman who finds a profitable pitch for her stall at his
church-corner. While we are fuming and strutting we are but providing
popcorn for posterity. Buskined heroes of history, who walk the earth in
tragic splendour, perchance your truest service to humanity has been
done in affording occupation for the poor devil who expatiates upon the
traces of your passing. This, at least, ye may be sure is good service;
the rest of your work, who shall sever the good and evil strands of it?
So much pother of prophets and politicians—and, lo! how poor a planet
we still wander in.

The culture-pilgrim, too, apart from this scattering of popcorn, is a
futile being. Culture as a mere excursion from a solid home-reality may
be vitalising, but whoso thinks to batten on alien arts and letters is
filling his belly with the sirocco. There is no reality in the
travel-world, be it the world of Art or the world of Nature, for we have
no true volitional relations with it. ’Twas Schopenhauer who discovered
this for Art—though his World has only the two dimensions of Will and
Idea. But he did not, if I remember, point out that everything seen with
aloofness from action partakes of this art-quality. The landscape from
the observation-car is a mere picture to us, however real to the
peasants working in the fields.

The only “real” traveller is the commercial. We others, wandering
through streets that our ancestors did not build, or sitting in alien
apartments and gazing upon unhomely hills, are still spectators, not
actors. We are not rooted in this soil, nor feel the deep intimacies
that are the truest truth about it. I may partake in the annual _festa_
of an Italian mountain village, hear the Mass, bear banner and taper in
the procession, salute the saintly image, dance upon the plateau-piazza
with a snooded peasant-girl, but how shall I feel the holiness and joy
of this day of days?—I whose infant breath was not drawn amid these
precipitous fastnesses, who have not lived in these human caves cut in
the rock, who have not played in these steep stone streets, who know
nothing of the dear narrowness, the vivid intensity that is born of
_cramped_ consciousness! There is in the very attitude of spectator
something that stands between one and the object in its truth. This it
is that makes the appreciations of cities by the school of Pater such
hollow phantasy, such bastards of an accident by a temperament. This it
was that begot Pierre Loti’s monumental misreading of Japan as a
Lilliput of the pretty-pretty. To lose the artistic Ego in the inner
life of the phenomenon—how rare the critic who is capable of that!
Listening to these parasites upon alien autocosms,

        “Moving about in worlds not realised,”

one would imagine that a civilisation or a city existed, that its remote
founders had fevered and its burghers toiled and its architects built,
to the mere end that centuries after they were dust some exquisite
vibrations should be registered on a sensitive soul.

Only less arrogant is it to place one’s soul in patronising
“appreciation” before some great historic structure—a cathedral, a
mosque, a palace, a library. These works of man so immensely transcend
any man’s works that he fits into them almost as ludicrously as a mouse.
A cathedral that represents the genius and labours and sacrifices of
generations towers so immensely out of proportion to any individual that
he can only recover a reasonable relation to it by fusing himself into
the life and stature of the race. To be solely concerned with its
impingement upon his own soul is an impertinence, to pass his life in
contriving such impingements is to live by robbery, and to enjoy these
secular products of human solidarity on the Paterian pretext that the
only reality is the fleeting and isolated Ego, is peculiarly
paradoxical.

Pater himself would even go so far as to study men, _e.g._ Pico di
Mirandola, for their æsthetic flavours. This is, indeed, to live
resolutely _Im Schönen_ if not _Im Ganzen_, and it is, therefore, the
more curious, that in citing Goethe’s maxim in his “Winckelmann” Pater
should, like Carlyle, have unconsciously substituted _Im Wahren_ for _Im
Schönen_. The æsthetic appreciation of Pico—as of most things—is a
mere by-product. I do not deny that by-products are sometimes
delightful. But let us not mistake them for central verities. And these
churches, these pictures, these statues, these palaces, these
monasteries which we see to-day in two dimensions, had once their third
dimension of reality, nay often have it still to those who know them in
their truth. How quaint that juxtaposition of Bibles and Baedekers in
Italian churches! The image which, seen through tears, is soothing a
worshipper’s pain, is at the same moment finding exact appreciation at
the eyes of a connoisseur. Who can read without emotion of how in
thirteenth-century Florence Cimabue’s _Madonna_, “the first Madonna the
people could love,” was borne in triumph from the painter’s studio to
its church by the whole population of the quarter, which henceforwards
took the name of the Allegro Borgo! To-day the art-critic analyses its
types and its composition, and it takes its place coldly in the history
of painting as the link between the Byzantine and the Tuscan. But the
citizens of the Joyous Quarter had the true flavour of the thing.

Despite the doctrine of Art for Art’s sake it remains questionable if
any maker of Art has ever escaped a desire to act—massively or
diffusively—upon the life of his age. In vain he hides himself in the
past, or flies to No-man’s-land, he vibrates throughout to the present,
touches living interests with their myriad indirect relations to action,
to the third dimension. Every art-product holds, however subtly,
something of that topical quality which makes the portrait of a
contemporary celebrity, wet from the painter’s brush, very different
from the peaceful remoteness of an Old Master.

No half-deciphered face of dim sweetness, charming us from the magic
casement of some fading fresco by some forgotten artist, as with the
very image of Art aloof and absolute, but was once wrought for a
specific market and born into a specific atmosphere. The forlorn stumps
and torsos that litter the moss-grown courts of museums were hailed, as
they fell from the craftsman’s hand, by a definite clientèle, rejoicing
in their beauty, stimulated by their freshness. Nothing, alas! is so
old, so corroded with time, but it was once brand new, the pleasant
novelty of the day to beings looking back upon an immemorial antiquity,
and now long since mouldered to dust. Every blurred inscription, every
crumbling pillar and shattered fragment had once its life, its meaning,
its public.

The hand of time in eliminating the topical element and reducing a
picture to pure Art—the inactive beauty that is its own end—removes
from our perception the full reality of the art phenomenon as it fell
from the artist’s hand into time and space.

Some parts of this original plenitude were indeed better forgotten, for
the Old Masters who were young once, young and impecunious, turned
Renaissance art into a fancy dress ball of their patrons, the
Magnificent Ones figuring as saints and patriarchs, Bethlehem shepherds
and Magian kings, whom oblivious time has done well to mellow into a
quasi-anonymity. But if the loss of such intellectual elements is a
gain, I am less certain as to the evaporation of the emotional auras of
works of art.

Andrea Orcagna worked ten years at the marble Gothic Tabernacle that
stands in the fuscous Or San Michele of Florence, and men of other races
and faiths gaze perfunctorily upon its decorative jewelled marvels, its
pictorial reliefs, wrought after the plague of 1348 from the pious
legacies of the dead or the thank-offerings of the survivors. The marble
gleams in the immortal inactive beauty that is its own end—but where
are the hope and the faith, the mourning and the anguish that made the
atmosphere in which its beauty had birth? Ebbed to the eternal silence,
like that great wave of popular rejoicing on which Cimabue’s _Madonna_
was carried to S. Maria Novella, or a picture of Duccio’s to its due
church in Siena. Can it be that Art, launched thus upon a sea of
emotion, is only its true self when stranded high and dry upon the
beach?

Is perhaps its most precious aspect precisely that by which it is
related to life? And its least precious part that which remains over for
the connoisseur of beauty? Oh but this is heresy, almost the
philistinism of a Tolstoy or a Savonarola.

But believe me, my dear Virtuosi, that flavour which the citizens of the
Joyous Quarter tasted, that wild-strawberry flavour of living, that
dog-rose aroma of reality which you miss by your wilful avoidance of
volitional relations, by your gospel of Art for Art’s sake, is as
exquisite as any of your hot-house flowers and fruitage. Are you rushing
in pursuit of the new pleasure? Nay, it can only be captured by those
who do not pursue it, who are even unaware that it exists. Mill’s
eudæmonistic paradox again, you see.

Has any professional hunter of the æsthetic ever, I wonder, had so
exquisite a sense of the starry heaven as Garibaldi when he embarked
from Quarto to redeem his country? “O night of the fifth of May, lit up
with the fire of a thousand lamps with which the Omnipotent has adorned
the Infinite! Beautiful, tranquil, solemn with that solemnity which
swells the hearts of generous men when they go forth to free the slave!”

“He never tampered with his sense of reality.” These words came to me as
the epitaph of an old Jewish pedlar when I heard of his passing away in
far-off Jerusalem. He too knew this joy of the Allegro Borgo (though in
his autocosm the Madonna was an idol) and gleams of it sustained him
through long years of poverty and pain, and through the shadows of his
closing hour. Pictures, songs, histories—all had no existence for him
outside his religion. All were but ministers of faith, to feed its
sacred flame. There was not in his whole life a moment of divorce
between reality and consciousness. In such simplicity, what a unity,
what a giant strength! Pitiful ye seem in comparison, ye unshelled
æsthetes, wandering in search of an autocosm or yearning to inhabit
every one in turn. Imagine it, to live the years of the Patriarch in our
complex tortured era, and never to have had an art-emotion, never—save
perhaps in childhood—to have known make-believe, never to have sundered
vision and idea from actuality! Think of it, ye who have played such
tricks with your souls as would make the angels weep, whose pious
emotion has as much relation to religion as the enjoyment of a painted
ocean to a struggle in the blind waters. You, Monsieur Loti of the
Académie Française, with your vain literary vigil at the Holy Sepulchre,
will you not envy this high seriousness which found an exaltation in
forty fasts a year, without bite or sup, and drew a salty vitalisation
from the tear of penitence? And you, sophisters of religion, who cling
to your creed because it is good for the poor, or a beautiful tradition,
or a branch of respectability; and above all, you, amateurs of “_la
volupté dans la dévotion_,” after the recipe of Barrès; you,
neo-Catholics who mistake masturbation for adoration, bow your heads
before one who worshipped God as naïvely as a dog adores his master, who
did not even know that he believed, who _was_ belief; who went to
Jerusalem not because he was a Zionist but because it was Zion, whose
tears at the Wailing Wall were tinctured with never a thought of the
wonder and picturesqueness of weeping over a Zion lost eighteen hundred
years before he was born! Poor Parsifal! Poor pure fool! Gone is thy
restful simplicity. Persiflage is now our wisdom.

But because I have been privileged to see this _sancta simplicitas_ of
the old Jewish pedlar, I feel I know my Middle Ages better than the
Protestant connoisseur whose learning flattens me out, or the
pseudo-Catholic in search of sensations. I understand the Allegro Borgo,
I say, and I am not appalled by the terrible list of Christian forgeries
and legends, the apocryphal Gospels, the pseudo-Epistles, the
hagiologies, for I know that ’tis the dry light of literary history that
is false—like every other science—and that in life all these figments
may have been the harmless nutriment of saintly souls. In this old Jew’s
autocosm, too, there were no physical impossibilities, no incredible
miracles, no monsters or leviathans so strange but their names in Hebrew
letters were a certificate of pedigree; the centuries were fused for him
as by a cosmic cinematograph, the patriarchs and saints hovering over
him in immortal synchrony. So am I not taken aback to see the _Bambino_
still in his mother’s lap by the time the Visconti present the Certosa
to the Madonna, nor does it disconcert me to behold all the abbots and
bishops of Christendom in attendance at the Crucifixion with consoling
models of their churches. And as for the Madonna being an Italian
_grande dame_ dressed in Venetian silks or Florentine brocades, how
else, pray, are we to preserve religion? True local colour and true
Jerusalem costuming would have brought relativity into the absoluteness
of belief, would have been a reminder that the Madonna was a foreigner.
The truer truth is that she is _Our_ Lady.

Art, you see, had in its palmy days to be a full-orbed reality, carrying
conviction as well as beauty to the guileless beholder. To us too ’tis
only the masterpiece attuned to our own macrocosm that can give us this
plenary satisfaction. Even “Paradise Lost” is for us merely a
magnificent banquet of words, the virgin bloom of Paradise truly lost
with our faith in the groundwork of the epic. Tolstoy’s attack on Art
fails to differentiate between the Art of alien autocosms, the Culture
Art which divides our soul against itself, and the real vitalising Art
of our own epoch. For though we say, “Blessed are the simple, who live
in the Absolute,” ’tis no necessary converse to cry damnation on the
complex. Art, we know, is in a sense a playing with life, an outcome, as
Schiller said, of the play-impulse, the exuberance of energies not
exhausted in the struggle for existence. This is what Carlyle felt when
he denounced mere rhymesters and canvas-colourers; it was the secret of
his “imperfect sympathies” (in Elia’s phrase) with Shakespeare himself.
’Tis Hebraism _versus_ Hellenism—the earnestness of the writers of the
Bible, whose Art is an unconscious enhancement, a by-product struck off
at white heat, _versus_ the self-conscious manipulation of themes by
Æschylus or Sophocles. A sense of futility and superfluity, if not of
positive pravity, lies behind the eternal distrust of the Puritan for
the make-believe of Art, his suspicion of the theatre and the nudities
of Pagan sculpture. A prick of atavistic Calvinism caused the writer
with the profoundest instinct for make-believe our generation has
seen—Robert Louis Stevenson—suddenly to declare that the artist was no
better than a _fille de joie_. But this was because the bulk of
Stevenson’s fiction—unlike his essays and his poetry—is Art in its
anecdotage, without serious relation to the spirit. And there are moods
in which a jejune elegance or an empty exhilaration is as unsatisfying
as a lady’s boudoir; and the artist, as a maker of beautiful toys, must
sink into the same place as the contriver of perfumes and cushions. In
Japan, where every workman is an artist, Art is in its proper place, and
there is neither cant nor confusion. But besides the little Art of
decorative line and melodious tinkle and romantic falsification of life
there is the greater Art which has in it the unrest of the ocean and the
silence of the starry night. Art, if in some instances it has sprung
direct from the play-impulse, has largely come to us by way of religion,
and where it is merely play for play’s sake—as in rococo Art—it is
doomed to sterility.

Although Art represents, yet, as photography came to prove,
representation is not the aim of Art. The aim of Art is
creation—creation that stimulates the soul. The artist has not to
reproduce his model, but to create something new, living, and
stimulating by help of it. He adds new creations to Nature. He marries
her facts to his passion and pain, and the offspring is Art—Nature
crossed by Man. The great odes of Keats and Wordsworth, the symphonies
of Beethoven, the pictures of Bellini, the statues of Michelangelo,
transmit to us the artists’ spiritual exaltations, their ideals of
beauty and energy. It boots not to point out that the artist is often
selfish and licentious, irritable and vain. It is the greatnesses of his
soul, not its pettinesses, which he puts into his art; his emotions and
ideals into its content, his sincerity into its craftsmanship. And by
greatnesses I do not mean only moral greatnesses, for life is larger
than morality. It is his own temperament with which the artist crosses
Nature. And that is why schools of Art can never yield more than craft:
new creations can only be got by new crossings.

I would grant the Puritan, to whom all Art is of Satan, as I would grant
his strange ally, Plato, that æsthetics may be abused, especially when
divorced from life. There are young ladies who consume a novel a day,
Sundays not omitted, by which process half their waking life is passed
in a species of opium-eating. There are amateurs of music whose life is
a surfeit of sweet sounds, and picture-lovers whose day is an orgy of
line and colour. But when Tolstoy, perceiving what a sensual sty of Fine
Art we may wallow in, ranged himself with the old Puritan iconoclasts,
and launched his famous Platonic encyclical against music divorced from
public psalmody, song sundered from harvest-festivity, or poetry that
was not a marching song to the Millennium, he overlooked that even a
healthy soul may have a surplusage of play-energy—nay, that this is the
very child-soul—and that even from a Puritan point of view Fine Art may
purify for fine Action, though it lack the direct nexus with Action.
Tolstoy’s tracts on religion may even be less vitalising for our age
than “Anna Karenina” operating by way of the Aristotelian _katharsis_.

And the relation of so-called fiction to truth may be even closer than
its nexus with Action. For it follows from our analysis of Science that
novels and plays have the great initial veracity of reproducing the
fulness of life as compared with the segregative sciences with their
one-sided abstractions, which are to actuality as the conjugations in a
Greek grammar are to a conversation with Helen of Troy. While the
artificial selection of Science breaks a whole into parts, the
artificial selection of Art can make a part truly represent the whole.
And the greater the artist-soul the less will it play with its moods by
the artificial and conscious refraction of Art for Art’s sake. None
should know better than Tolstoy that the highest Art is only Truth seen
as Beauty. The great artist’s registration and reflection of the
universe in tone or colour, line or word, is, indeed, the highest form
of Science at our command, fact and flower in one. “Beauty is Truth,
Truth Beauty.” Sophocles, Shakespeare, Dante, Michelangelo, Beethoven,
Milton, Browning, were not playing with life. The world of Art may not
be the world of Science, but it is the world we live in, the human world
furnished with faith and emotion, no less “real” than the naked universe
of physical law.

To accept Art for Art’s sake, to divorce it from life, would be to
pigeon-hole our souls, as most people put their religion into Sundays.
The deepest analysis seems to conduct us back to a recognition that Art
and Reality, though they have no necessary relation, do actually tend to
approach each other in the greatest Art. The greatest writers—a
Shakespeare or a Tourgénieff—in that selection from life which
constitutes Art, select so as to give a sense of the whole, avoiding the
one-sided selection which gives us on the one hand the disproportionate
sexualities of the Palais-Royal farce or of the elegant bawdy-book, on
the other the disproportionate sentimentalisms of goody-goody fiction.
In painting, too, the Art which seizes the essence of places and people
is the greatest, and I believe the greatest music seizes the essence of
moods. Moreover, it is only by their relations to human realities that
imaginative creations like Goethe’s Mephistopheles or Swift’s
Lilliputians, the Prometheus of Æschylus, the Caliban of Shakespeare or
the Jungle-Beasts of Kipling, have power to hold us. It may give us a
useful distinction between Imagination and Fancy to connect the one with
invention along the lines of life and born of insight into its
essence—as in the creation of Hamlet; the other with artificial
invention—as in the creation of Alice’s Wonderland. Whether Hamlet
existed or not, or that Prince Hal did exist, is irrelevant to Art. The
transient reality has been replaced by the permanent creation. _Per
contra_, what was meant as Truth may survive only as Art, like the
mythological parts of the “Iliad,” “Macbeth,” “Paradise Lost,” or the
“Divina Commedia.” Yet, as I have just pointed out, even these great
artistic creations lose their hold in proportion as they cease to seem
in correspondence with external realities. And if the supreme test of
plastic and literary Art is its communication of a sense of life, is it
not Truth we are really worshipping, Truth under another name? For
lifelikeness, if it does not necessarily mean likeness to particular
individuals, does necessarily mean likeness to universals. And
Selection, though it omits portions of the truth, does not omit the
whole truth—nay, sometimes reveals the whole truth by cutting away the
obscuring details. Reality is the inexhaustible _fons et origo_ of all
great Art; apart from which there is no life in Art, but a rootless,
sapless, soulless simulacrum. So that with the supreme artist, the
Puritan antithesis of Truth and Art, Reality and Make-believe, Hebraism
and Hellenism, disappears. A Sophocles is as earnest as a Socrates, a
Michelangelo as a Savonarola, a Shakespeare as a Luther, a Beethoven as
a Darwin.

As earnest, but not as limited. The biggest souls have never been able
to express their sense of the multiform flowingness of things in neat
packets of propositions; they have expressed it through the infinitude
of Art. And Art, having once in human history been the medium of the
spirit, must never sink back into a soulless toy. The Art of the future
must vivify Science and take it up into Life; it must touch Truth with
emotion and exalt it into Religion.



               ST. FRANCIS: OR THE IRONY OF INSTITUTIONS


            “Ludibria rerum humanarum cunctis in negotiis.”
                                                  TACITUS.


                                   I

So _eccomi_ back in Assisi, after heaven knows how many years, and here
is the same bland Franciscan—or his brother—to show me the same tiny
monastery garden with the same rusty rose-bushes and tell me the same
story of how its native thorns and briars turned into thornless roses
with blood-specked leaves after St. Francis had rolled in them to subdue
the flesh, and the same anecdote of the neophyte who refused to plant
cabbages with their roots upward and was rejected by the saint as
insufficiently simple and obedient, and I ask the same question as to
the botanic results of planting cabbages topsy-turvy and receive the
same beaming reassurance that they waxed to prize dimensions, while a
blight fell on those whose roots had, with worldly-wise presumption,
been planted in earth. And I am shown the same little hut which the
saint occupied, with the same unnatural ecclesiastic vaulting and the
same unnatural oratory above it, and I go again into the same
Lilliputian church (twenty-two feet by thirteen) beloved of St. Francis,
with its rude plaster and its wooden benches and its plain brass lamps,
and receive the same shock at the thought of its asphyxiation beneath
the giant grandeur of S. Maria of the Angels, that spreads over it like
a golden eagle brooding a street sparrow. And from the door of this dear
little Portiuncula I glean the same glad tidings that Pope Gregory XIII
at the instance of the most illustrious Cardinal Sforza has conceded to
every faithful Christian who will say (or pay for) a mass at its altar,
the grace of liberating a soul from Purgatory. And I am given the same
illuminated leaflet about St. Francis, with the same specimen of
ensanguined rose-leaf—precisely like that which grows in my own
garden—and I pay the same lira on the same spot where St. Francis, who
called coins “flies,” had some of these pests, innocently offered by a
worshipper, thrown out upon asses’ dung. The only change since my last
visit is that a fig-tree has been planted “by request” in remembrance of
the old tree in which Sister Grasshopper sang with the saint for eighty
days.

And this “by request” is a vivid reminder that the Franciscan legend is
flourishing more and more, like the topsy-turvy cabbage, and that shoals
of pleasure-pilgrims, richly clad, come by carriage or motor to maunder
over “the little poor man of Assisi,” to gloat upon the cord of his
tunic, stored up in a cupboard, and to gain an appetite for lunch by
rhapsodising over the cell in which he fasted. Yes, the lover of poverty
and of the brute creation has brought a good deal of money to the little
hill-town, and no small sum of labour and lashings to its horses, and it
is not surprising that the region round the poor little abandoned church
of S. Maria in Portiuncula has grown up in the last quarter of a century
into a big suburb, with eating- and lodging-houses, or that the
successors of the saint who in his horror of property tried to tear down
the chapter-house built for him, and who left even his cell because
somebody referred to it as St. Francis’s, have within the last ten years
been able to enrich their vast basilica with three elaborate carven
doors and an iron railing, not to mention the horrible modern fresco
with six angels like ballet-girls hovering without the chapel where St.
Francis died.

As I leave this musty S. Maria of the Angels and mount on this divine
spring day towards the sunny hill-top where Assisi proper sits
rock-hewn, with its towers, domes, and castles, and see beneath me the
wonderful rolling Apennines, and the windings of white roads and silver
streams, and around me the grey-green of olives and the bridal white of
cherry-trees, and above me the cloud-galleons sailing in the great
spaces of sky, a remark of the bland brother comes back to me with added
significance. “We do not know where St. Francis’s heart is,” he said,
grudgingly conceding that the rival church on high possessed his body.
The fancy takes me, as I toil up to this tomb, that St. Francis’s heart
refused to be buried in a church, is here out of doors, at one with the
spring and the sunshine.

And even more symbolic sounds to me the bland brother’s boast that the
colossal church built over the poor little Portiuncula is on the model
of St. Peter’s. Canonisation is a process that normally lasts centuries;
our King Alfred’s is not yet complete. But twenty months after his death
Francesco Bernardone was hustled into formal saintship. The Pope crushed
him by a loving embrace, and over his beloved doll’s house of a church
was erected a copy of St. Peter’s! And far above, on the rival ridge of
Assisi, as if to give a culminating irony to the symbolism, and as if
one great church built over his body did not suffice to keep him down, a
second church of S. Francesco has been built on the top of the first,
and beneath these two churches, each supplied with its frescoed
falsifications by the school of Giotto, the little brother of the poor
who demanded only to lie among the criminals on the “Infernal Hill” was
safely buried.

And yet not so safely but that his spirit has begun to penetrate through
all the layers of stone and legend. Perhaps it has escaped through that
portal of the upper church which, incautiously thrown open to illumine
the painted miracles, tempers the austere gloom and the drone of
ceaseless psalm-saying from below with a revealed greensward and a
piping of birds. But one cannot imagine that his spirit has gone to
occupy that large red throne between two yellow armchairs which the
fresco depicts as the vision of his appointed seat in heaven, or that
fiery chariot with which to bedazzle the brethren left behind. These
twenty-eight wall frescoes, like the four triangular allegories on the
ceiling below, hold little of the true St. Francis (notwithstanding that
they are all drawn from Franciscan literature), and the least spiritual
and the most mythical portions of the legend, the demons flying over
Arezzo, or St. Francis hovering in the air while praying, figure on
equal terms with his real activities, while the picture of his offering
the Soldan the ordeal of fire is an imaginative amplification even of
the literature. Setting aside all the fatuous monastic miracles, and the
more tedious anecdotes of the Franciscan legend—and it must be
remembered that the earliest dated manuscript of the _Fioretti_ comes a
hundred and sixty-four years after the death of St. Francis—we are yet
able to extricate from it a kernel of personality sufficient to account
for its genesis and growth, and it is this St. Francis who has at length
burst through the three churches devoted to keeping him down and made
his appeal to the modern mind. Yet the modern mind might easily misread
itself into the mediæval mystic.

Despite his marriage to Lady Poverty, St. Francis was far from a
conscious rebel against the glories of the Vatican. He was too
humble-minded to be anything but a meek acceptant of the established
Church and the ruling ritual. But there was in his literal translation
into life of the Sermon on the Mount, the germ of a dangerous schism—a
germ which duly developed into a sect of “Spirituals” for whom the
Gospel of Assisi was the Eternal Evangel destined to supersede the
Christianity of the Vatican—and it is not an accident that his
followers, despite their popularisation of the idea of Papal
infallibility, gravitated more to the Ghibelline cause than to the
Guelph, and were, later on, formally condemned as heretics by John XXII.
This unstatesmanlike Pope was not only ignorant that persecution is the
seed of the sect, but he undermined the doctrine of his own Papal
infallibility by thus reversing the bull of Nicholas III confirming
their order. He alleged that Nicholas had framed it without his
Cardinals, but the more logical Minorite Brothers contended that the
contradiction of his predecessors proved him no true Pope, but a
usurper. John and his successors retorted with the Holy Inquisition, and
the Franciscans were burnt in stacks or tortured to death in dungeons;
“martyrs,” says Döllinger, “to the doctrine of Papal infallibility and
the rule of poverty.” And such is the comedy of Catholicism.

One wonders sometimes what St. Francis would have made of himself, had
Christianity never come his way. His own genius would never have created
the melancholy dogmas of the mediæval Church. There is neither Christ
nor Atonement in his Canticle to the Sun—his most characteristic
utterance. The Christianity he absorbed from his environment makes but a
hybrid composite with his essential personality. There is thus no real
unity in his spiritual being, no real reconciliation between his theory
of utter abnegation and unworthiness, and his cheerful mystic oneness
with the material universe and all its creatures. That everything God
has created is laudable except one’s self, and that all matter is
sacramental except one’s own body, is scarcely a congruous creed. And he
followed his Christianity for the most part with a prosaic literality
that showed that here he was but a passive receiver, as in his pharisaic
prohibition against the brethren’s practice of soaking pulse the evening
before it was eaten, on the ground that this meant taking thought for
the morrow. _Not_ to soak it, is precisely taking thought, since it is
concentrating attention on a triviality. But in his tender mystic
universalism on the other hand he was a master, a creator. “Our Brother
the Sun,” “Our Sister the Moon,” “Our Sister, Water,” “Our little
Brothers and Sisters, the Birds,” “Our Sister, the Death of the
Body”—these are the mintings of an original genius, not that tame
subservience to texts which limited his wardrobe because of certain
words in St. Matthew. And the originality of this genius consists,
curiously enough, in the spontaneous reproduction of Hindu optimism and
universality in a Western. How Hindu this thought is appears vividly
from the story in the “Speculum Perfections,” that when St. Francis’s
drawers caught fire about the knee, he would not put it out nor harm his
brother Fire. From this point of view Hell would only be brother Fire
enjoying himself. Yet we find St. Francis engaged all his life in
thwarting the fraternal appetite. St. Francis would have been a greater
man, had he been less of a Christian.

His distinctively Christian sayings are indeed comparatively poor. One
scans the record almost in vain for any flash of the irony or sublimity
of Jesus. The profoundest remark of the _Fioretti_—“everything, good or
bad, that a man does, he does to himself”—belongs to brother Giles who,
one is not surprised to find, left a book of _Verba Aurea_. Occasionally
a superb transcendence of ritual as in St. Francis’s remark that so far
from not eating meat when Christ’s nativity fell on a Friday, “the very
walls should eat flesh on such a day, or if they cannot should at any
rate be greased outside,” recalls the flouter of Pharisaism, and we
catch the voice of an authentic master in his exposition of a passage of
Ezekiel to a peace-loving doctor of divinity perturbed about the text:
“If thou proclaim not to the wicked man his wickedness, I will require
his soul at thy hand.” It was by the brightness of his own life and the
perfume of his fame, said St. Francis, that the servant of God
proclaimed their wickedness to the wicked. That was not precisely the
method of Jesus, and herein St. Francis is more Christian than Christ.
Nevertheless, if one had not his Hindu utterances to supplement his
Christian, there would be little to distinguish the skinny black-eyed
little strolling preacher from the numberless narrow-browed ascetics of
the Church except his childishly dramatic delivery, his success in
founding an Order and his redeeming weakness for talking bad French. It
is that strange animism of his which gives him his hold upon us, which,
not content with reading a soul into the bird, the fish, the grasshopper
and the wolf, extends with half-savage, half-childish personalisation to
fire and water, and even to wood and stone, nay to the very letters of
the alphabet, so that he will not erase a letter even when he has set it
down in error. Behind this divination of life in all things must have
lain an exquisite sensibility, and it was thus his unfortunate fate to
be supremely alive to beauty—even in woman—yet to be driven by his
creed to the worship of sorrow, abnegation and self-inflicted pain,
though even from these his subtle nervous system could snatch a rare
moment of ecstasy, for so delicately was he strung that the mere words
“the love of God” set up a sweet vibration like a plectrum striking a
lute. How indeed should the gay knight, whom his comrades elected “King
of the fools,” change his sensitive skin, merely because he turned to be
“God’s fool?” If he now found his joy in the ecstasy of mystic communion
and absolute abnegation, the joy was still at his core, and however he
might afflict his body, with a sub-conscious sense of setting a model to
his weaker brethren, it was impossible for him to subdue his
sun-worship, or not to delight in the ripple of water, and the grace of
birds and flowers and women. And herein he differs from the Buddha with
whose life-story and tenderness for all creation he has so much in
common, but to whom this world is merely a mistake to be endured till
the nullity of Nirvana is attained. Even the pseudo-Christian theory of
this vale of tears is not so pessimistic as Buddhism, for the lachrymose
vale is merely the prelude to a mountain of bliss, and Schopenhauer’s
attempt to pair Christianity with Buddhism overlooked that the Buddhist
saint lives to die and the Christian dies to live. Kuenen showed much
deeper insight when he pointed out that Buddha does not value purity and
renunciation as virtue—he is “beyond good and evil”—but as the best
means of escape from life. But for St. Francis the world is not a vale
of tears. Indeed the conception of a world of sorrow is contradicted by
the sorrowful lives of the saints. For abnegation is pointless if there
is no happiness to be surrendered. The pathos of the life of St. Francis
lies precisely in his exquisite capacity for terrestrial happiness, and
in his daily crucifixion of every natural desire at the bidding of a
vicious theory of virtue, to which a natural want means something
created by God in order to be thwarted, and which makes a vice of every
necessity. Fortunately he had from his Hindu side the saving grace of
joyousness, and could rebuke the saturnine visage of professional
sanctity and even—towards the end—his own barbarity to that brotherly
ass, his body.

His disciples, whose affinities with him were so imperfect that his most
devoted biographer is the author of the “Dies Iræ,” attempt indeed to
harmonise the two halves of his personality by the mediation of texts.
If he loves even the humble worm, it is because “he had read that word
concerning the Saviour: ‘I am a worm and no man,’” and if he treads
reverently on the stone, it is not from some mystic sense of a
stone-life or some sacramental sense of a divine immanence, but “for
love of Him who is called the Rock.” That his delight in water should be
traced to its baptismal uses, and his prohibition against cutting down
the whole of a tree to a reverence for the material of the cross, was,
of course, inevitable. Nor is it impossible that St. Francis
occasionally glossed himself over to himself, and it is quite probable
that his special tenderness for the hooded lark was due to its
quasi-monkish cowl, and that his comparative coldness to the ant reposed
upon its providing for the morrow. For it was his tragedy to be torn
between a blithe personal revelation of the divine and a stereotyped
tradition of sorrow, to constrict his spiritual genius to a
cut-and-dried scheme of salvation, and to be crucified on a second-hand
cross. The stigmata which are the best proof of his hyperæsthesia are
likewise the best evidence of his spiritual plagiarism and his
comparative failure. For to be crucified is not to be Christ. Jesus did
not set out to be crucified, but to do his and his Father’s work.
Crucifixion came in the day’s work, but was its interruption, not its
fulfilment. The true imitation of Christ is to do one’s work though men
crucify one. But deliberately to seek crucifixion—even crucifixion of
one’s natural desires—is to imitate the accident, not the essence. A
still greater perversion is it to brood upon the crude insignia of the
Passion till auto-hypnotism works miracles in the flesh.

The followers of St. Francis pushed the plagiarism so far as to
adumbrate a parallel legend, with a descent into Purgatory and a John of
the Chapel who fell away and hanged himself, and by the latter end of
the fourteenth century the parallel was made precise and perfect in the
_Liber Conformitatum_ of Bartolommeo of Pisa. But the copy is only
superficially true to the original. There is nothing in the story of the
great Galilæan to justify the perpetual self-torture of St. Francis in
his morbid quest of perfect humility and sinlessness. On the contrary,
Jesus speaks with so god-like an assurance of righteousness that it has
become one of the chief arguments for his divinity, as it is the chief
stumbling-block to the efficacy of his example. For if God was made not
man but superman, we can no more emulate this superman’s goodness than
his power of creating loaves and fishes in a crisis. Only if Jesus were
not God is his example valuable. But man or superman, he did not sap his
energies by brooding on his own vileness. Buddhism, with all the apathy
that its pessimism engenders, is healthier here, since (according to the
Mahâviyûhassutta) the _Muni_, the Master of renunciation, never blames
himself.

I sympathise cordially with the perplexities of Brother Masseo, who,
according to the “Analecta Franciscana,” lost his naturally cheerful
countenance under the difficulty of believing himself viler than the
vicious loafer; and who, when this peak of humility was by grace
attained, found himself in fresh despondency before the new Alp that
rose on the horizon. “I am sad because I cannot get to the point of
feeling that if any one cut off my hands or feet or plucked my eyes out,
though I had served him to the best of my power, still I could love him
as much as I did before, and be equally pleased to hear him well spoken
of.” Poor Masseo! Why should this worthy brother, a man, according to
the _Fioretti_, of great eloquence and belonging to the inner circle of
St. Francis, waste his time and spoil his valuable cheerfulness over
such hypothetic absurdities? The humour of the last clause is worthy of
Gilbert.

It is in face of such a _heautontimorumenos_ as poor Brother Masseo that
I revolt against all this strained ethics, this gymnast virtue demanding
years of training to force the soul into some unnatural posture which it
can only sustain at best for a few seconds. I could weep over all this
wasted goodness when I think of the wrongs crying out for justice, the
voice of lamentation that rises daily from the wan places of the world.
How much there is for Hercules to labour at without standing on his head
and balancing the seven deadly virtues on his toes! The beauty of
holiness is often put on the same level as the holiness of beauty, as a
self-sufficient ideal. But even as false ideals of beauty may impose
themselves, so may false ideals of holiness. The static sanctity of a
Stylites has long been relegated to those false ideals, and even a St.
Francis cannot be accepted as a model for to-day, though a few satiated
souls may yearn after abnegation as the last luxury of the spirit. There
is much barren æsthetic admiration wasted upon religious maxims which it
is admitted would overturn society if acted upon; and it is
questionable, therefore, whether there is any real beauty in these, any
more than in jewelled watches that will not go. Even when a rare saint
acts upon them, they seem to produce spiritual sickliness rather than
spiritual health. There is, perhaps, a finer beauty of holiness in the
life of a wise and good man of the world with a sense of humour, than in
the life of an ecstatic and underfed saint, whose very notion of the
Fatherhood of God lacks the reality and fulness that come from
paternity.

There are few things in literature more touchingly simple than those
adventures in search of holiness, that picaresque novel of the spirit,
known as “The Little Flowers of St. Francis.” These gentle souls, who
wander without food or knapsack, under the tutelage of the seraphic
saint, through the enchanting valleys and hills of unspoiled
thirteenth-century Italy, and adventuring in even more glamorous regions
hold strange parleyings with the Soldan of Babylon, have upon them a
morning light of innocence and that perfume of holiness which can never
fail to justify the Master’s exposition of Ezekiel. If anything could
add to the sweetness of the idyll, it is the spiritual loves of St.
Francis and St. Clara. And yet our adoration of St. Francis must not
blind us to the questionable aspects of the chronicle. “I may yet have
sons and daughters,” he replied deprecatingly to one who proclaimed him
blessed and holy. What a caricature of true ethics! Even the poverty for
which he was “so greedy” is impossible if everybody is greedy for it,
and the abnegation he practised he could not have preached. Otherwise
when he tossed his own tunic to a shivering beggar, he should have
inspired the beggar to toss it back to his now shivering self, and so
_ad infinitum_. That game of tunic-tennis with nothing ever scored but
“love” would have been true Franciscanism, but also its _reductio ad
absurdum_. I do not wonder that Goethe smiled at the “Heiliger” of
Assisi, for neglecting to visit whose shrine he was nearly arrested as a
smuggler.

Yes, the bland brother does well to babble of the cabbage planted with
its leaves in the ground. For he has blundered into the very essence of
the Master’s teaching: this topsy-turvydom, these roots in the air, are
the secret of St. Francis’s success. There is a tendency to blame our
paradoxists, to deride their inversions as mechanical. But St. Francis
is an inversion incarnate, a paradox in flesh and blood. While with
other men Property is a sacred concept, a fetish guarded by a mesh of
laws, he refuses to own anything and even disposes with blasphemous
levity of other people’s property. Theft he daringly defines as not to
give something to anybody who has greater need of it than oneself. He
hated Property, not as the Socialist hates it who covets its
communalisation, but as something in itself evil. These practical
inversions of his have the same excuse as those of the literary
paradoxist. Nothing less than this violent antithesis will suffice to
shake men’s notions from the _rigor mortis_ that overtakes even true
ideas, or to offset the exaggeration which gradually falsifies them. One
false extreme must be met by another, if the happy mean is to be struck.

Pray do not imagine I would endorse Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, or
the popular platitude that truth always lies midway between two extreme
views. On the contrary, truth is often the most violent and extreme of
all possible propositions and right action the most violent and extreme
of all possible forms of conduct. But the system of St. Francis needed
as much contradiction from the world of common sense as the world of
common sense needed from it. In so far as it was Christian, it was an
imitation of early Christianity, minus the time-limit which justified
its model. But the right course of action when the world is about to
come to an end will not necessarily be the right course if the world is
indefinitely to be continued in our next. In such a world the system of
St. Francis is an impossibility, if only because it would bring the
world to an end by lack of population. And if it really succeeded, it
would bring itself to an end even before the world, for in the absence
of owners there would be none to receive alms from, none to bake that
bread which St. Francis naïvely regarded as coming by grace as simply as
water. This absolute avoidance of money resembles, indeed, nothing so
much as banking, which is possible only if the bulk of the investors do
not ask for their money at the same time. It is on the certainty of his
failure that the success of a saint reposes. His disciples will never be
more than a miserable minority and so he will seem recuperative and not
destructive to society. The exaggeration of his holiness will mitigate
the materialism of the average man. Dives will not give up his dinner
but he will drop a crumb for Lazarus and another for the saint, and
perhaps eat only salmon and trout on Fridays. It is this reflection that
he incarnates for the race an ideal of perfection, imperfect though it
be in its impossibility, that reconciles me to the saint, as the
reflection that the Church Fathers were engaged in fashioning that ideal
reconciles me to their meticulous morality, in a world so given over to
slaughter, sensuality and every abomination of injustice that their fine
shades and their notion of an impassable infinity between right and the
smallest wrong appear ludicrously disproportionate and academic.

The saint on this theory is a scapegoat, a victim on the altar of human
selfishness; he does, suffers, or gives up, too much because most other
persons do, suffer, or give up, too little. He is sacrificed to the
balance of things, or as St. Paul put it, he is the leaven to the lump.
Yet things would overbalance were he too successful, and too much leaven
would spoil the lump.

If there is within St. Francis an unresolved discord between Hinduism
and Christianity, still more jarring is the outer discord between Nature
and Christianity which he tried so heroically to harmonise. Don Quixote
tilting at windmills is a practical figure beside St. Francis trying to
Christianise bird and beast. The consciously grotesque pathos of
Cervantes is surpassed by the unconsciously grotesque pathos of the
chronicles of St. Francis. The struggle for existence in Nature—the
angler’s hook and the birdcatcher’s snare—can hardly be glossed over by
sermons to the birds and the fishes. Doubtless St. Francis had—as some
sinners have to-day—a strange power of fascination over the lower
creatures, but the butcher was not eliminated because St. Francis
occasionally bought off a lamb or a turtle-dove. We know too little of
the psychology of wild beasts to deny that he tamed the Wolf of
Agobio—though it is permissible to doubt the civil contract with
Brother Wolf which in Sassetta’s fanciful picture is even drawn up by a
notary; nor is the stone record of the miracle you may read to-day on
the façade of that little church in Gubbio which was set up three
centuries later, nor even the skull of Brother Wolf himself,
found—according to a lady writer on Gubbio—“precisely on the spot
pointed out by tradition as the burial-place of the beast,” and “now in
the possession of a gentleman at Scheggia,” as convincing a testimony as
she imagines “to the indubitable truth of the tradition, and to the
superhuman power of love towards every living creature.” Love has no
such power to turn lions and wolves into civil contractors or
vegetarians. There is a battle of beneficent and sinister forces in the
universe, which Persian speculation has always recognised frankly, but
which Hebraic and Hindu systems, by their higher synthesis of Love or
Good, unconsciously whittle away into a sham fight, or at best a
tournament; a play of God with His own forces. ’Tis Docetism writ
larger. But whether the fight be sham or real, the universe is not run
on a Franciscan system, and it is this which makes the pathos and the
grotesquerie of the saint’s attempts to equate the macrocosm with his
autocosm. Yes, St. Francis is as nobly mad as Don Quixote. Nay, towards
the end, where the cavalier of Christ, broken by disease in the prime of
his years—disease of the spleen, disease of the liver, disease of the
stomach, disease of the eyes—macerated by senseless privations, a mere
substratum for poultices and fomentations and cauterisations, scarcely
even washing himself for fear of ostentating the stigmata, still sings
songs of praise so blithely as to scandalise his companions’ sense of
death-bed decency, we touch a more Quixotic pathos than anything in
Cervantes.

And these legends of his pious influence over the cicala and the swallow
and the wolf, this tench that plays around his boat, this pheasant that
haunts his cell, this falcon that wakes him for matins during his fast
in the mountain, these birds that fly off in four companies like a cross
after devoutly digesting his sermon, all make for the comity of
creation, especially in Italy, where animals have no souls, only bodies
that may be ill-used: indeed, St. Francis—with his disciple St. Antony
of Padua—contributes to Christianity that missing note of respect for
the animal creation which Hinduism expresses “in the great word
_Tat-twam-asi_ (This is thyself!).” And here at least modern thought is
with St. Francis and his Hindu universalism. The evolution theory is
usually considered a depressing doctrine, yet it has its stimulating
aspects. For though we may doubt if St. Francis converted the wolf, we
cannot doubt that Nature Christianised it, or at least some creature as
low and savage. For from some gibbering ferocious brute there did, in
the process of the suns, emerge a seraphic, selfless being with love for
all creation. The wolf, in fact, became St. Francis; a more notable
conversion than any in the missionary books.

But what did St. Francis become? Here the record is not so stimulating;
here begins degeneration, devolution. Before he died he was an idol and
the nominal centre of vast organisations, lay as well as monastic,
female as well as male, and in this success lay his defeat. _Lachrymæ
rerum_ inhere even more in success than in failure. The portrait of St.
Francis by Ribera which may be seen at Florence—a melancholy monk with
his eyes turned up, holding a skull—was no sadder caricature of the
blithe little man who swept out dirty churches with a broom than these
gigantic and infinitely quarrelsome organisations were of his teaching.

A great man may either influence humanity by his solitary work or he may
found an institution. The institution (if adequately financed) will
live, but with himself squeezed out of it—for worship at a safe height.
The squeezing out of St. Francis from Franciscanism began even before
his death—the Papacy pressing from without and his own vicars from
within. That very sensible fear of Brother William of
Nottingham—evidently a practical Briton—that superfluities would grow
up in the Order as insensibly as hairs in the beard, was more than
verified. The dangerous rule of Absolute Poverty was relaxed, scholastic
learning was reinstalled in its armchair, a network of rules replaced
the rule of the spirit, and the little brotherhood that had lain on
straw and tattered mattresses in the Portiuncula swelled and split into
Conventualists and Observants, the majority established in magnificent
monasteries. St. Francis lamented the degeneration of the brethren,
though he characteristically refused to punish it. And when he was quite
squeezed to death there began a fight for his body—holy body-snatching
was a feature of the Middle Ages—and that vile enemy of the soul which
he had battled against all his life took his place as the centre of the
cult. Perugia, holding by force the body of St. Giles, removed from
Assisi the only possible rival of his relics. His very poultice is still
preserved as an object of edification.


                                   II

Erasmus dreamed once—so he writes to Charles Utenhove—that St. Francis
came to thank him for chastising the Franciscans. The Founder had not
the scrupulous stage-costume of his degenerate followers: his brown
frock was of undyed wool; the hood was not peaked, but merely hung
behind to cover the head in bad weather; the cord was a piece of rope
from a farmyard; the feet were bare. Of the five wounds of the stigmata
there was as little trace in St. Francis as of the six virtues in the
Franciscans. Obedience, poverty, chastity, humility, simplicity,
charity—where had flown these “six wings of the seraph”?

_Eheu fugaces!_ ’Tis the story of all founders, of all orders. St.
Francis at his supreme moment of renunciation had not even the brown
frock of Erasmus’s dream. In the market-place of Assisi he stood in his
shirt. And he desired to die even more naked, as Thomas of Celano and
the “Legenda Trium Sociorum” testify. The first Franciscans were simple
souls kindled by his love and ecstasy, “the minstrels of the dear Lord.”
They bore revilement and scourging; dragged along by their hoods, they
never ceased to proclaim Peace. They lay a-cold in caves, with hearts
careless of the morrow; they served in lepers’ houses. And above all
they worked; begging was only to be a last resort, and never was money
to be asked for. “Beware of money,” says the “Regula.”

Brother Elias of Cortona, the immediate successor of St. Francis, is
said to have lived like a prince, with valets and horses, and he readily
got the Pope to sanction a device by which he obtained all the money he
wanted _per interpositas personas_. Nor did the Master’s teaching fare
better at the hands of the more faithful faction—the Observants whom
the Conventualists persecuted—for the rule of Absolute Poverty was
applied without the genial concessions and exceptions he knew how to
make; and under the guidance of the caustic and canonical Antony of
Padua the ancient _gaudentes in Domino_ hardened into slaves of the
letter, while the more mystic degenerated into anchorites who retired to
the mountains to save their own souls.

Nothing can point the tragedy of St. Francis’s success more vividly than
his own homely words in his “Testamentum.” “And they who came to take up
this life gave up whatever they might have to the poor and were content
with a single tunic, patched inside and out (if they wished), together
with a girdle and drawers: and we would have no more. We clerks said the
office like other clerks; the lay-brothers said the Lord’s Prayer. We
gladly abode in poor and forsaken churches, and were simple folk and
subject to all. And I used to work with my hands, and I desire to work,
and my earnest wish is that all the brethren should work at some decent
employment.”

Only a century later Dante’s eulogy of the Founder (“Paradiso,” Canto
XI) is qualified by the remark that so few of his followers cleave to
his teachings that “a little stuff may furnish out their cloaks.” And
three centuries later the spectacle which these _Fratri Minori_
represented to Erasmus was that of arrogant mendicants, often of loose
morals, begging with forged testimonials, haunting the palaces of the
rich, forcing themselves into families, selling the Franciscan habit to
wealthy dying sinners as a funeral cloak to cover many sins. His little
sisters, the swallows and the doves, fluttered over St. Francis’s tomb,
but from it issued the hawks and the vultures. An old, old moral, though
humanity will never learn it.

Saint Francis was Francis Saint. The Lady Poverty “who for eleven
hundred years had remained without a single suitor” found in him a
spouse faithful unto death. His soul went out in fraternity to all the
wonderful creation, in joyous surrender to pain and tribulation: even
Death was his sister. To found an Order of St. Francis is to count upon
a succession of St. Francises. As well found an Order of Shakespeare, a
phalanstery of Da Vincis.

In religion no less than in literature or art the Master is ever a new
individual—“_Natura lo fece e ruppe il tipo_”—but followers ever think
to fix the free-blowing spirit. Alas! saints may be summarised in a
system, but the system will not produce saints. Academies, churches,
orders can never replace men; they too often serve to asphyxiate or
assassinate such as appear. St. Dominic, the sterner founder of the
other mendicant order, was not more fortunate in creating an apostolic
succession of Poverty than his friend and contemporary; and as for his
precursor, St. Bruno, contrast his marble image in the Certosa, gazing
agonisedly at a crucifix, with the mosaics of agate, lapis-lazuli,
amethyst, and cornelian worked over the altars by eight generations of
the Sacchi family, or with the Lucullian feasts which the Carthusians
could furnish forth at the bidding of the Magnificent Lodovico. St.
Bruno retreated to the desert to fast and pray, and the result was
Chartreuse. If he now follows the copious litigation he may well
apprehend that his order has modified its motto and that for “_Stat crux
dum volvitur orbis_” you should read “_Stat spiritus_.”

Benedictine, too, is a curious by-product of the first of all the
Western orders, and the one by which England was converted to
Christianity. How pleased the founder of Monte Cassino must be to see a
British bishop sipping Benedictine!

Religion has not, indeed, lacked saints aware of the tendency of
followers to substitute the forms for the realities and the leader for
the spirit. There was Antoinette Bourignon, with her love for the free
flowing of the Holy Ghost and her hatred of the Atonement theory, but in
the absence of forms her sect had not sufficient material framework to
maintain itself by. If the Quakers still survive, it is because they
have erected something into a system, if only colour-blindness. But the
twaddle which is talked at Quaker meetings when an old bore is played
upon by the spirit, turns one’s thoughts longingly to a stately liturgy,
independent on the passing generation. Humanity is indeed between the
devil and the deep sea. Institutions strangle the spirit, and their
absence dissipates it.

    “Nec tecum possum vivere, nec sine te.”

Even if by miracle a Church remains true to the spirit of its founder,
this is a fresh source of unspirituality, for his spirit may be
outgrown. An excellent definition of what a Church should be was given
some years ago by a writer in the _Church Quarterly_: “A National
Church, elastic enough to provide channels for fresh manifestations of
spiritual life, yet anchored to the past.” But where is such a Church to
be found? “Anchored to the past”—yes, that condition is more than
fulfilled. But spiritual elasticity? The _Church Quarterly_ reviewer has
the face to pass off his definition as that of the Church of England,
and to say that such a National Church “might have saved the United
States from many of those grotesque, and worse than grotesque, features
which have at various times disfigured their spiritual life.” But the
Church of England has notoriously failed in elasticity—even the
Archbishop of Canterbury is unable to make it express his view of the
Athanasian Creed. And, far from its anchoring the spiritual life of the
English people, they have violently torn themselves away from it in
secessions of Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, &c. &c. As to its
preserving them from grotesque religious features, the aberrations of
English sectarianism fully equal those of America, when the difference
of geographic area is considered and the absence of supervision over
great spaces. Sandemanians, Walworth Jumpers, Joanna Southcottians,
Seventh Day Baptists, Plymouth Brethren, Christadelphians, Peculiar
People—such are a few of the British aberrations, some of which have
counted distinguished followers. The bequests to foster even the
Southcott mania were treated as sacred by the Court of Chancery.
Jump-to-Glory-Jane is an English type put into poetry by an English
poet. The sect to which Silas Marner belonged, with its naïve belief in
drawing lots—the practical equivalent of the sortilege of the Pagan
soothsayer—was not made in America. It was England which Voltaire
ridiculed for its one sauce and its endless sects. The great scale of
America magnifies the aberrations. But even Mormonism, Dowieism, and
Christian Science have solid achievements to their credit. Salt Lake
City is a paradise built over a desert reclaimed by Mormon labourers,
Zion City is a handsome town without drinking-palaces, and Christian
Science has made more advances in the last generation than Christianity
made in its first two centuries, numbering as it does its temples and
its teachers by the thousand. There is at least life behind these
grotesqueries, while in the Established Churches there is asphyxiation
by endowments.

Endowments—there is the secret of stagnation. It is an unhappy truth
that man tends to become a parasite on his own institutions. Humanity is
a Frankenstein that is ridden by its own creations. Its Churches, with
their cast-iron creeds and their golden treasure-heaps, are the prisons
of the soul of the future. The legal decision in the great Free Church
fight serves as what Bacon calls an “ostensive instance” of this
elemental truth, bringing out as it does that the legal interpretation
of a Church involves, not the elasticity so glibly vaunted by the
_Church Quarterly_ reviewer, but absolute inelasticity. A tiny minority
of ministers is able, for a time at least, to hold millions of money and
hundreds of buildings, because the vast majority has elected, in a
spirit of brotherly love, to join another body from which it is
separated by a microscopic point. There can, at this rate, never be
development in a Church. The faintest divergence from old tradition may
justify the hard-shell orthodox in claiming all the funds and regarding
the innovators as deserters of their posts and properties. All Church
funds are indissolubly connected with the doctrines to which they were
first tacked on, and changes in doctrine involve forfeiture of the
belongings in favour of those who have had the fidelity or the
shrewdness to cling to the original dogma. How much change is necessary
to alter a creed is a delicate problem, known in logic as of the Soros
order. For every day brings it subtle increments or decrements, and a
dogma of imperishable adamant has not yet appeared in human history.
Every dogma has its day. The life of a normally constituted truth is,
according to Ibsen, twenty years at the outside, and aged truths are apt
to be shockingly thin. Thus the danger which threatens all Churches—the
danger of having to buy their ministers—is raised to infinity if the
money is thus to be tied up by the dead hand of the past. A premium is
placed upon infidelity and mustiness. There is no Church or religious
body in the world which is not weighted with pecuniary substance, from
Rome to the Order we have been considering, founded for the preachment
of Absolute Poverty. The continuity of policy which the _Church
Quarterly_ applauds becomes a mere continuity of property, if progress
is to be thus penalised. Nor are the Dissenting bodies immune from this
pecuniary peril. A Calvinist chapel in Doncaster that was gravitating to
the New Theology has found itself closed _pro tem._ under its trust deed
of 1802.

The remedy for this clogging of spiritual life is clear. It was always
obvious, but when Property is in danger one begins to consider things
seriously.

Every Church and sect must be wound up after three generations. The
time-limit needs elucidation.

The first generation of a Church or a heresy—the terms are synonymous,
for every Church starts as a heresy—is full to the brim of vitality,
fire, revolt, sincerity, spirituality, self-sacrifice. It is a
generation in love, a generation exalted and enkindled by the new truth,
a generation that will count life and lucre equally base beside the
spreading of the new fire. The second generation has witnessed this
fervour of its fathers, it has been nourished in the warmth of the
doctrine, its education is imprinted with the true fiery stamp. It is
still near the Holy Ghost. In the third generation the waves radiated
from the primal fire have cooled in their passage through time; the
original momentum tends to be exhausted. Now is the period of the smug
Pharisees profiting by the martyrdoms of their ancestors, babbling
rhetorically—between two pleasures—of their fidelity to the faith of
their fathers. If the third generation of a Church can get through with
fair spiritual success, it is often only because of a revival of
persecution. But the third generation is absolutely the limit of the
spiritual stirring. In the fourth generation you shall ever find the
young people sly sceptics or sullen rebels, and the Vicar of Bray coming
in for high preferment. Here, then, is the limitation dictated by human
nature. The life of a Church should be wound up by the State. The birth
of a heresy must be free to all, and should be registered like the birth
of a child. It would expose its adherents to no disadvantages, either
religious or political. But after three generations it must be wound up.

Of course, it should be perfectly open for the Church to reconstitute
itself immediately, but it should do this under a new name. If it
started again afresh, the compulsory winding-up would have acted as a
species of persecution and thoroughly revitalised the content of the
particular _credo_. The third generation would have strained every sinew
to realise their faith and bring it home to the young and fourth
generation. The latter, ere re-establishing the Church, would have
rediscovered its truth, and thereby given it fresh momentum to carry it
through another three generations. This simple system would allow
children to continue the faith of their fathers from conviction instead
of compulsion, and, by terminating the right to property, would save
posterity from the asphyxiation of benefactions.

The life of a generation is computed by biological statisticians at
thirty-three years. Three generations would thus make ninety-nine years.
A century brings such changes in thought and things that the excerpts
from the _Times_ of a hundred years ago read like the journalism of
another planet.

The bequests by which eleven old gentlewomen of a certain parish, that
has been swept away, receive groats of an abolished currency, on a day
that has disappeared from the calendar, to perpetuate the memory of a
benevolent megalomaniac, would, on a similar principle, be limited to
the natural run of a century. It is enough to be allowed a dead finger
in the pie of proximate posterity; “a century not out” must never be
written over any human will or institution.

If this time-limit seems a trifle harsh, apply it, dear reader, not to
your own creed, but to something esoteric, like the doctrine of the
Dalai Lamas of Tibet, which has for so many centuries paralysed a
priest-ridden Asiatic population. Do you think this theory of
reincarnation deserved a longer run than three generations?



   THE GAY DOGES: OR THE FAILURE OF SOCIETY AND THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF
                               SOCIALISM


    “Dieses Prunkschiff ist ein rechtes Inventariënstück, woran man
    sehen kann, was die Venetianer waren, und sich zu sein dünkten.”

                                      GOETHE: _Italiänische Reise_.


                                   I

But if Absolute Poverty is less worshipful than St. Francis imagined,
Magnificence as an ideal will, I fear, always be found to connote
defective moral sympathies, as of the Pharaohs building their
treasure-cities on the labour of lashed slaves. For how in our world of
sorrow and mystery can magnanimity and magnificence meet? What great
soul could find expression in gilt, or even in gold? ’Tis a reflection
on the character of the Doges of Venice that everywhere in their palace
is a sense of over-gilded ceilings. Even when the Masters have made a
firmament of frescoes, the massive flamboyant framing weighs like a
torrid haze on a weary land. Art is overlaid and obliterated by gold.
What wonder Religion too is soon asphyxiated in these flaming halls of
Council—the Doge ceases to kneel to the Madonna, he stands before
_Venice Enthroned between Mars and Neptune_. It is Juno who from a
ceiling-fresco pours gold on Venice, and in the heavy gilded picture of
Zelotti, the Magnificent Ten could behold _Venice Seated on the World_.
What sly satirist was it who—over the choir of St. Mark’s—crucified
Christ on a cross of gold?

In “The Merchant of Venice,” ’tis the Duke of Morocco who chooses the
golden casket; I feel sure ’twas Bassanio, the Venetian. Not that I do
not hate the leaden casket more. Portia should have gone with a field of
buttercups in June.

Of all expressions of human greatness, metallic sheen is the most banal.
I have never recovered from the shock of learning that the Greeks gilded
their temples, and though I can now with even a spice of zest imagine
them shining afar from their headlands in a golden glory, I would have
preferred to keep my vision of austere columns and noble pediments; and
I am grateful to Time, that truer artist, for having refined away that
assertive aureola.

On the water, indeed—which is beneath one’s feet, and not sagging on
one’s head—metallic sheen may exhilarate, subtilising and softening
itself, as it does, in its own wavering reflections, and I find the
Doge’s gilded galley more endurable than his _lacunar aureum_. It may be
because Shakespeare (or rather Plutarch) has reconciled me to
Cleopatra’s barge by those magnificent burnished lines. The Lord Mayor
of London, too, had anciently his gilded barge, and if you will look at
an eighteenth-century picture in the Guildhall by a pair of forgotten
painters, representing the Lord of Cockaigne sailing in state on the
Thames on the ninth of November, on the way to be sworn at Westminster,
you will see how easily London, with her old boatmen and barges, and
water-gates and water-parties, singing as in Pepys, might have
paralleled the water-pomp of Venice, and how completely we have now
thrown away the gorgeous possibilities of our proud water-way, lining it
with warehouses in lieu of stately mansions, and cutting out of our
lives all that shimmering vitality of ever-moving water. Man does not
live by bread alone, and “Give us this day our daily water” were no
unfitting prayer in our arid city. The Henley Week is our one approach
to the colour of a Venetian _festa_. Yet what a Grand Canal the Thames
might have been! I vow that at a distance I should take that old
Guildhall picture, with its gay old costumes, its pageant of gilded
galleys, each flying a brave array of rich-dyed flags and manned with
rowers in white, its spires and turrets, and the noble dome of St.
Paul’s swelling into sunny spaces of air and cloud, all suffused in a
golden mellowness, to represent the Doge of Venice going to a “solemn
rite” at the _Salute_. Alas! the Lord Mayor has now only a gilded coach,
and the Doge of Venice has vanished away, and only fragments of galleys
in the Arsenal and a model of the last of the Bucentaurs remain to tell
the tale of his marine glories, and his marriage to the Adriatic on
Ascension Day.

One mast of the _Bucentoro_—the very mast that upbore the flag of the
winged lion and the proud inscription, _In hoc signo vinces_—survives
in tragic recumbency, while a morsel of frieze shows in gold, on a basis
of dark wood, delicious angels playing trumpet and harp at the prow. The
relics of other galleys, pranked with figures about half life-size,
enable us to gather what exuberance of fancy and grotesquerie went to
grace the _Bucentoro_ which Napoleon burnt, while the fact that he
extracted the gold of 80,000 Napoleons from its ashes shows with what
prodigality the Republic blazoned its sense of itself.

But the marvellous model reconstructed by Ferdinand of Austria in 1837
at a cost of 152,000 francs, reveals, if it be exact, that seamy side
which is always the obverse of Magnificence. At first the eye is taken
up with its opulence of decoration, as it seems to take the water with
its proud keel, and its great all-topping flag of the lion and the
cross. For its upper deck is of mosaic, over-hinged by a huge lid, red
velvet without and gold relief within, and from the water-line rise
winged figures, and over the arch through which pass the many-flashing
oars of red and gold is a frieze of flying horses, the rape of Europa,
Centaurs, and what not; and above this are winged figures flying towards
a gold sky, and gold figures on a balcony, which is supported at the
prow by winged lions and a pair of mermen, and at the bowsprit couches
the winged lion with two little angels playing behind him; and on the
hull is a naiad pouring out her urn, and a merman blowing his trumpet,
and the protrusive heads of alligators; and lest you should think Venice
meant nothing but gold and fantasy and the pride of life, behold
dominant over these Justice with her sword and her scales, and Peace
with her dove and her olive-branch.

But below, hidden away behind and beneath the gilding, at the unseen end
of the red and gold oars

        “Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke,”

sat one hundred and seventy-eight galley-slaves, chained four to an oar;
and here in this fuscous interior the benches are no longer of plush,
but of rough deal; here is no play of Fancy—here in the hard seats we
touch Reality. But not herein lies the supreme sordidness of the
_Bucentoro_—the crowning touch is given by the oars, which, at the very
point where they disappear over the rowlocks under the gay arches, turn
from their red and gold into a plain dirty white, like shirt-cuffs that
give on soiled sleeves. ’Tis the very magnificence of meanness! The
horny-handed wretches, to the rhythm of whose tired muscles this golden
vessel moved along in its music and sunshine, to whose caged gloom no
glimpse came of the flags and the purple, the angels and the naiads,
could not even be conceded the coloured end of an oar. But could there
be an apter symbol of civilisation, ancient, mediæval, or modern, than
this gilded oar, whose gaudiness fades as it passes from the bravery of
the outer spectacle to the grimness of the inner labour? Upon such
sweating slaves rested all the glitter and pageantry of the ancient
world—not only Babylon and Carthage, but even the spiritual and
artistic greatness of Greece. _In hoc signo vinces_—in the sign of
slavery; in the sign of the lion and the cross—the lion for yourself
and the cross for the people. And in every land of to-day the same
State-Galley glides along in bannered pomp, parading its decorative
images of Peace and Justice, and the radiant creations of its Art, while
below are the hard bare benches and the labouring, groaning serfs. The
serfs are below, even in another sense, for it is their unsightly hands
that have built up every square inch of this splendour. Beatrice d’Este
went to see a galley a-building, her velvet cap and her embroidered vest
stuck full of jewels; complacently recording the ejaculations of
admiration for her diamonds and rubies, while the Venetian women, and
even children, were toiling at making the sails and the ropes. Yes, the
social order too must be gazetted bankrupt. It has, indeed, never been
solvent. It has never paid its real creditors, the slaves of the
uncoloured oar.

Nor does our civilisation hold much hope of a change for the fairer.
Despite prophets and poets, despite Socialists, dry-as-dust or
dithyrambic, despite philanthropists and preachers, the revel on the
top-deck amid the velvet and the mosaics grows ever wilder, the flutes
ever more Dionysiac, the fantasies on prow and poop ever more
grotesquely golden. America, shorn of monarchy and feudalism and rank,
and all that the friends of man screamed against, divides with Russia
the hegemony of hotels and outdoes the worst extravagances and
debaucheries of the Renaissance. Where in the Cinquecento a few despots
and “humanists” wallowed in lust and luxury, we have now ten thousand
private tyrants and loose-livers, restrained hardly by the penal law.
The deeds of the Cenci or the Baglioni must be done in a glass-house in
the fierce light that beats upon local greatness. The ruffians of the
Renaissance had no such free field for vagaries and vices as the vagrom
son of a millionaire enjoys in this modern world, where property in
growing fluid has become dissolved from duty; where in every
pleasure-city palaces invite and women allure and slaves grovel; where
every port swarms with white-winged yachts to bear his indolent
irresponsibility to glamorous shores; where in a million halls of light
his world-strewn flunkeys proffer unseasonable food cooked by
unsurpassable artists, and rare champagnes, oscillated for months in a
strange daily ritual by troops of underground elves.

They tell us that this New Year’s Eve in New York alone some three
million pounds were spent in suppers in the flaring restaurants, where
between eleven and twelve o’clock only champagne could be served. Such
is the New Era ushered in by the New World—the Era of Champagne. For
this the Red Indian was uprooted and the wilderness tamed. For this
Washington lived and Lincoln died. By the flood of champagne all
standards of life and letters are swept away, save the one standard of
financial success, save the ability to dine in that wonderful culinary
cathedral where in a dim irreligious light as of a submarine world of
faery, to a melting liturgical music, a fashionable congregation follows
with absorbing zeal the lengthy order of service. What an Agapemone!

And this epidemic of vulgarity, spreading to our own country, has made
the England of 1802, which Wordsworth denounced for “glittering like a
brook,” the England where “plain living and high thinking” were no more,
appear like an island of pristine simplicity. Even the old families
surrender to the new standard and—in the plaint of Dante—“_non heroico
more, sed plebeo sequuntur superbiam_.”

What is to be done? What is to be done about it all? We writing men, to
whom the highest British manhood is still Wordsworth in that country
cottage where visitors must pay for anything beyond bread and cheese, we
to whom the greatest American personality is still Walt Whitman in his
Camden shanty, must at least preserve our divine gift of laughter, our
one poor power of laughing at these vulgarians, whom even the occasional
smuggling of an Old Master out of Italy cannot redeem from barbarism.

The purple pomp of kings, blatant though it be in comparison with true
grandeur, is at least the expression of a public dignity: it is an
official costume like the judge’s wig and gown. But because greatness
must accept office at the hands of its otherwise helpless inferiors, and
office must be suitably apparelled, a certain confusion has been
established between splendour and greatness, as though because greatness
means splendour, splendour must mean greatness. Of this confusion those
are promptest to take advantage to whom the high road to consideration
is closed. Private pomp is a confession of personal pettiness. The
little soul must needs inflate itself by a great house-shell, and
protract itself by a long retinue of servants. ’Tis almost too pathetic
a meekness, this humility of the Magnificent Ones.

Cannot I breathe into you—O Magnificent Ones—a little proper pride? Ye
buy the Past, watching one another in jealous competition; will no one
buy the Future? Why not buy with your millions an earth renewed and
regenerated, a solvent social order? Why not build a true civilisation
on this malarious marsh, that shall rise like the spires and domes of
Venice from her swamps? Surely that were a dream worthy of Magnificence!
Come, let us build together a State-Galley where the oars shall be red
and gold from blade to handle, and every man shall take his turn at
them, and the fantasies of Art shall adorn the hull of Righteousness,
and Justice and Peace shall no longer be ironic images carved for the
complacency of the top-deck. So shall there dawn an Ascension Day on
which the Doge shall go out with banners and music, not to marry the sea
with a ring, but to celebrate the nuptials of Earth with Heaven.

Private pomp is surely a questionable thing. Mediæval life centred round
the Cathedral, the Castle, the Palace. And the masses touched the life
at each and all. The Cathedral gave them their religion, their laws came
from the Palace, their protection from the Castle. Dominating a feudal
population, the towers of law and war uplifted and unified the people.
The lowliest were of this greatness. To-day palaces flaunt themselves,
divorced from moral meaning, magnificence without significance. The
world, as I said, is full of private autocrats, without duties or
dangers: an unhappy consequence of the fall of feudalism, ere a system
as human was ready to replace it. And to-day the Cathedral is our one
feudal relic, reconciling magnificence with morality: the light
streaming through the rose-window haloes the grey head of the
market-woman, and her prayer equals that of the Magnificent One himself.
It is significant that no villa—whoever the architect—can attain the
poetic quality of the simplest village church. The palace of Moses is
nowhere mentioned, but we read many minute instructions concerning the
Tabernacle and the Temple. In truth, art treasures are essentially
public: the furniture of cathedrals, libraries, law-courts,
market-places, and parks. The owners of collections do indeed often
allow the public to visit them at inconvenient times, but that anybody
should have exclusive rights is an absurdity. If Art were a form of
property like any other, the owner could destroy it, and the righteous
indignation of the world at the destruction of a Botticelli or a
Velasquez would mark the boundaries of private property. Land comes
under the same canon. Nothing, perhaps, should be owned which might not
be destroyed at will.

In literature and music—which are more spirits than bodies, and which
can be multiplied without loss—monopolies are unnecessary. If I write a
book against Socialism, the world will applaud, and communistically
possess itself thereof after a brief term. And this legal limitation of
copyright which forcibly wrests epics, operas, and novels from the heirs
might be extended to pictures and statues.


                                   II

But if the galley of old Venice stimulates my Socialism, the
cinematograph of modern Venice torpifies it again. For be it known that
in Venice there are scores of halls and theatres devoted to delectable
visions at prices to suit the poorest, and open to _ragazzi_ for a
couple of _soldi_. And in every city of Italy the fever rages; one
performance follows on the heels of another, and the wretched
manipulator of the magic lantern must subsist on sandwiches while the
theatre is clearing and re-filling. Every unlet dancing-hall or decayed
rink or bankrupt building has blossomed out into a hall of enchantment
where even the words of the play are sometimes given by the cunning
juxtaposition of gramophones. In this way I heard _Amletto, or the
Prince of Denmark_, its too, too solid flesh melted into a meat extract.
But the most wonderful spectacle of all was soundless, save for the
flowing music. For twenty _centesimi_ the Teatro S. Marco passed before
my eyes an exquisite vision of _Le Ore_—the hours in ten “_Quadri
animati_,” from the shiver of light that precedes the dawn to the last
falling of night. In the Sala d’Aurora of the Castle of Ferrara, Dosso
Dossi has depicted _Tramonto_, _Notte_, _L’Aurora_ and _Mezzogiorno_,
but not more poetically than the modern stage-manager who arranged these
living pictures. As I watched these allegorical groupings of nymphs and
fauns by their stream in the glade, I felt that the old pagan religion
still lingered in the souls that could conceive and enjoy this
nature-poetry.

And as I sat here, amid Venetian washerwomen and street boys, it was
further borne in upon me that no State Bureau would ever have begotten
this marvel for the joy and uplifting of the people, and that in the
present imperfection of human nature individual initiative under the
spur of gold or hunger could alone work these miracles of Socialism.
“_La propriété c’est la vol_,” said Proudhon, but “_vol_” in his sense
implies a bullish acceptance of the very conception he is combating. Let
us translate it by “flight.” Property is the impulse of the aeroplane.

Therefore pray do not count my aspiration for a solvent social order as
an adhesion to any cut and dried theory of the State owning and
administering all social resources. For that sort of Socialism is—like
science—bankrupt, even before it begins. It fails, not merely because
it would substitute an external arrangement for a change of heart—and
Socialism will either be a religion or will not be—but because no
external arrangement is possible. The collective ownership of land and
capital is feasible in Juan Fernandez so long as Robinson Crusoe and
Friday continue exiled from civilisation, but impossible in our world of
international finance, where private ownership extends to countries
which the property holder will never even visit. Unless, therefore,
every country in the world simultaneously adopted Socialism, there would
be an inextricable tangle of Socialism and Individualism. Not to mention
that capital—as every shareholder knows—means men as much as money.
But even in Juan Fernandez, as soon as it became thickly populated,
Socialism would be unmanageable, because the stock of concentrable human
consciousness is insufficient to arrange a social order from a central
bureau. Omniscience alone would be equal to the task, not to mention All
Goodness and All Wisdom. Despite the vast loss by friction and absence
of organisation, despite the vast suffering, the struggle for existence
is the only agency capable of fitting the pegs into the holes. Shall the
State, for example, select which man shall write poetry? And still more
vital, which poetry the State Press shall print? We have already had
experience of the State as a selector of Laureates and a censor of
drama, and Milton knew it as a censor of literature. Our most brilliant
Socialists, an they had their way, would be reduced to pasting
pasquinades on the pedestals of our street statues.

But in a looser connotation, “we are all Socialists now,” if indeed we
ever were anything else. From the day of the first human grouping for
co-operation and common defence, Socialism has been the rule of life,
and the question of how the common work and the common products are to
be apportioned is a mere question of organised distribution. That we
have hitherto left this cumbrous and infinitely complex problem of
distribution to solve itself by natural selection does not make society
less socialistic. Nor would the discovery of a more excellent way of
dividing up the labour and its results make society more socialistic.
For compared with the assets of civilisation in which we share
equally—the museums, picture galleries, libraries, parks, roads,
schools, life-boat and fire-engine services, armies, navies,
light-houses, weather-bureaus, asylums, hospitals, observatories—the
assets in which we share unequally are relatively unimportant, and
without sacrificing to a machine the zest and stimulus of liberty, and
the fine flavour of individuality, it is a comparatively simple matter
to minimise the waste and suffering produced by the struggle for
existence, and to arrange that talent shall rise to the top, not for its
sake but our own. It is no evil that one man should live in a palace and
another in a cottage; these differences even add to the colour and joy
of life. The evil is solely that any man willing to work should lack a
cottage, or that the cottage should be a malarious hovel. Levelling up
is the only reform necessary, as it is the only reform possible. For if
the gradual consolidation of railways, land, mines, and a few leading
industries in the hands of the State is not beyond practical politics,
this would still be very far from “Socialism,” and it is vastly amusing
to witness the agony of apprehension with which respectable society
looks forward to the advent of a social order which cannot possibly
materialise, and which menaces us less than the flaming tail of a comet.
Only less amusing is the awe with which society regards Property as
something sacrosanct in quality and immutable in quantity. Why, even the
King’s shilling is as nimble and elusive as mercury, will buy you mutton
to-day and only tripe to-morrow, and scarcely run to dog-sausage in a
siege. Property is a Proteus, a shadow, a transient and generally
embarrassed phantom. Property merely means a potential call upon human
service—past or future—and if human service is unwilling or absent,
Property shrinks or collapses, like the bag of pearls found by the
thirsting Arab in the desert. Finance—like all other branches of
science—has been treated as though its subject-matter had absolute
existence. But the assets of the world’s bankers incalculably outrun the
world’s power of service, and Property is merely a promissory note which
can only be redeemed if there is not too great a run upon the labour
bank at which it is presented. Still more elastic is the service that
produces this right to call upon the service of others. A hundred
thousand readers buy this book—instead of borrowing it—and I am a
Crœsus; a hundred, and I am free of income tax. Motor cars are invented,
and my house in Ascot falls to half its former value because the smart
set need no longer stay overnight during the Ascot week. My unknown aunt
remembers me in her will and I am a thousand pounds the richer. The
Seine rises and my Paris flat is a ruin. I die and my land dwindles to
six feet. Where in this foolish flux is room for holiness? And why may
not society—the only source of values—mould Property as it will for
society’s ends? Why—among the many vicissitudes with which Property
must reckon—should not social reform count equally with bad harvests,
wars of conquest and Stock Exchange manœuvres?

To say that Property is sacred is to confuse the means with the end,
like the miser who hoards his gold and forgets its uses. Society is
sacred, not Property, and whatever sanctitude or stability has been
attached to Property has been attached entirely for socialistic
purposes; not that the individual may be enriched, but that he may not
lose the spur that drives him to enrich society. Individual property is
merely a by-product of labour for society. He who demands overmuch for
his labour is under-moralised. The true citizen is anxious to be taxed
for the general good, provided his taxes are used for social service. He
is anxious that some form of distribution of the common products shall
be organised to supplement natural selection and correct its
over-harshness. Experience might prove that interference with natural
selection saps the stamina and initiative of society more than it
benefits the “submerged tenth,” in which case we should reluctantly
return to the present form of Socialism.

As for land, it is the one thing that I can conceive nationalised even
under our present form of Socialism, nay, which is already nationalised
to the extent that the private owners of British land may not sell it to
Germany or Japan, as they may sell anything else of theirs. Every new
State should doubtless begin by trying to nationalise its land. I say
“trying,” because it is by no means certain that it would succeed, since
so far from the increment in land values being unearned, it is the very
possibility of earning it that induces the pioneer to suffer peril,
privation and isolation. Were Canada, for example, not to give away its
land, the many adventurers who have flowed in from the United States
would probably have remained at home, and all this Canadian territory
have been still empty. And once you have made land quasi-private
property, it cannot justly be subjected to any peculiar tax, since
colossal as is the rise of land values in growing towns, the value of
land is controlled by the same factors of luck and judgment as rule all
other property values, and may be depreciated as well as enhanced by the
operation of social forces beyond the owner’s control or prevision.
Wherefore all increments in value—in stocks and shares, copyrights,
patents, &c. &c.—should be treated as potential matter for taxation
equally with the so-called “unearned increment” on land.

One would imagine from the war cries in our latest political campaign
that Socialism was already upon us, and that the only refuge from it lay
in Tariff Reform. But it is precisely Tariff Reform which is Socialism;
a taxation of the entire community in the interests of this or that
industry. Nor should the entire community be averse from taxation for
any provably good object; a moralised community would even be always
looking round for fresh methods of self-taxation. Budget Day would be a
national festival, a day of solemn joy, tense with the hope that new
ways would be found of making England the Kingdom of God. Alas! it is a
day of sick anxiety, with a sequel of farcical unfailingness, in which
every section taxed sends a deputation to show that it is the one
section that should have been left unburdened, while from the bloated
gluttons and swillers at the great hotels arises the cry of “Red ruin
and the breaking-up of laws.” And the poor philanthropist we have always
with us—he who threatens to stop his charity contributions. As if the
abolition of charity was not the very object of social reform! Every
benevolent activity means a sore in the social system, and charity
covers indeed a multitude of our sins.

Strange that these sordid questions of money should so fever this mighty
England of Shakespeare and Milton. Ship-money cost Charles the First his
head, and a petty land tax changes the House of Peers. Poor humanity, so
deluded as to the essential values of life, so peculiarly demented in
all that concerns Property! But I bid you cast away your fears. I repeat
to you my good tidings of great joy. Socialism is impossible. A perfect
and just distribution of the goods and labours of life—“to each
according to his needs, from each according to his powers”—is Utopian.
Moreover envy, hatred and all uncharitableness prevent it: stupidity,
sloth, selfishness, treachery and tyranny preclude it. Rejoice,
therefore, and let us cry Hosanna!

Nor are these evil qualities confined to the capitalist, they are found
in even uglier forms in the working man, who is merely a capitalist
without means, and through his Trade Unions talks equally of rights and
even less of duties and ideals.

But if Socialism is impossible, and Socialist parties consequently
deficient in constructive potency, they yet perform in every country a
critical and regulative function of the first importance. Our own Labour
members are the only gentlemen in British politics. To all questions,
national or international, they bring a broad spirit and a quixotic
ideal, and while our Howards and our Percys cower in craven terror of
Germany, or make prudent alliance with Holy Russia, or handle with
correlative despotism India, Ireland or the woman question, our men from
the pits and the factories sit free and fearless, the sole guardians of
England’s ancient glory.



         THE SUPERMAN OF LETTERS: OR THE HYPOCRISY OF POLITICS


Arrestive was it in an aisle of Santa Croce—the Florentine Church of
the Holy Cross—to come upon a monument to Niccolò Machiavelli, anathema
alike for Catholicism and Protestantism, the “Old Nick” of the Hudibras
rhyme. ’Twas as if Mephisto had managed not only to slip into the
Cathedral, but to achieve canonisation. But even a devil is not given
his due at the hands of his own countrymen: it was reserved for an
English earl, more than two and a half centuries after Mephisto’s
passing, to provide his works with a splendid setting and his remains
with a massive monument. And so, in the dim religious light, I pondered
over the stately inscription:

        “Tanto Nomini nullum par Elogium.”

How, indeed, equate eulogy to so great a name? Machiavelli was our first
modern—the first to exhibit the reign of law in human affairs, to read
history as the play of human forces and not as the caprice of a cloudy
Providence, modified by the stars. What an epic sweep in the opening
sentences of his “History of Florence”—Gibbon in a nutshell, the whole
“Decline and Fall,” summarised as the economic emigration southward of
the surplus population of the Goths into an Italy weakened by the
removal of the seat of Empire to Constantinople. Vagarious chance,
indeed, he admits, as a complication (to be minimised by prudence), but
Providence is mentioned in “The Prince,” only to be dropped, and
astrology is not even mentioned. Machiavelli would have agreed that “the
fault’s in ourselves, not in our stars, that we are underlings,” and for
those who wished to prince it, he was prepared to point the conditions
of success. And this indifference to the stars—to quadrangles and
hexagons, sigils, conjunctions, and configurations—is not his least
amazing merit.

Pico della Mirandola had, indeed, refuted astrology before him, but it
was in the interests of that conventional theory of Providence and
free-will which leaves the chaos of history irreducible to order.
Machiavelli not only ignores astrology, but substitutes causation for
the chaos.

’Tis true Comte suggested that astrology was, likewise, an attempt to
reduce to law the chaos of human phenomena, but the remark is
over-ingenious. Where there is no rational connection between causes and
effects there is no science. The planetary conjuncture one was born
under might, indeed, not impossibly affect temperament or internal
destiny, just as the climate one was born under, but the notion that it
could shape external destiny belongs to the mediæval megalomania.
Galileo’s discovery of new stars must have shaken it, falsifying as it
did all previous horoscopes—indeed, Sir Henry Wotton, our ambassador to
Venice, was more impressed by Galileo’s injuriousness to astrology than
to theology. “For the virtue of these new planets must needs vary the
judicial part, and why may there not yet be more?” But Machiavelli
belongs to the pre-telescope period; he wrote a whole century before
Galileo, and thirty years ere Copernicus unsettled the ancient heavens
by his Nuremberg treatise. True, even in the twelfth century, Maimonides
had denounced astrology as “a disease, not a science,” and the great
Jew’s letter “to the Men of Marseilles” had evoked papal applause. But
not even Popes could arrest the disease. A century before Machiavelli
was born Petrarch poured scorn on the astrologers. But the mockeries of
this pioneer of humanism did not save a prince of the Renaissance like
Lodovico from employing an astrologer advisory, under whose calculations
he went from disaster to disaster. There were even Professors of
Astrology at the Universities. Bodin, the next great political
philosopher after Machiavelli, though half a century later, still
dallies with astrology, still coquets with the theory of a connection
between the planetary motions and the world’s history, while Copernicus
he regards as a fantast unworthy of serious refutation.

Earlier in the sixteenth century Luther had denounced astrology as
“framed by the devil,” and in his Table Talk had challenged the
astrologers to answer him why Esau and Jacob, who were “born together of
one father and one mother, at one time and under equal planets” were yet
“wholly of contrary natures, kinds and morals.” Nevertheless in the next
century, Milton in “Paradise Regained” makes Satan predict truly to
Jesus on the strength of

                              “What the stars,
        Voluminous or single characters,
        In their conjunction met,”

give him to spell, and throughout the whole seventeenth century, as “Guy
Mannering” reminds us, nativities continued to be cast. The child’s
horoscope in some parts of Europe hung side by side with his baptismal
certificate. Even to-day such phrases as “Thank your lucky stars,”
conserve a shadow of the ancient belief, and the sidereal influence
survives even more subtly in the word “consider.” Through such banks of
fog pierces the searchlight of the great Florentine, it turns its
powerful beam even upon Church history. The Princes of ecclesiastical
principalities, he remarks drily, are the only ones who can possess
States and subjects without governing and defending them, but it would
be presumptuous in him to discuss these matters, as they are under the
superintendence and direction of an Almighty Being, whose dispensations
are beyond our weak understandings. But the Church has likewise attained
temporal power, and here Mephisto may intrude without blasphemy. Secular
triumphs demand secular explanations. One is reminded of the dialogue on
Julius II attributed to Erasmus. Our Mephisto notes grimly that no
prophet has ever succeeded unless backed by an armed force. Hence the
collapse of “brother Jerome Savonarola when the multitude ceased to have
faith in him.” In short, in the making of history Might and Right are
partners.

Not in the exposition of this commonplace lay Machiavelli’s
offensiveness for his contemporaries. Had he remained the passionless
observer of the pitiful human breed, the explicator of the tangled
threads of history, he would have been acclaimed as a moralist,
unveiling with ruthless hand the hypocrisies of princes. What changed
angel to devil was that instead of fulminating against the partnership
of Might and Right, he found that only by this firm could history be
made. He wrote not science but art—the _ars usurpandi_. Not only had
the Princes of the past combined Might with Right, guile with goodness,
but whoso wished now to be a Prince must needs go and do likewise. The
ethics springing from the social relations of citizen to citizen no
longer holds in the relation of ruler to subjects.

It is true “The Prince” might also be regarded as an elaborate Swiftian
irony—a negative Pulcinellian advice to those about to usurp—an
exposition of Princedom as the service of the devil. “A New Prince
cannot with impunity exercise all the virtues, because his own
self-preservation will often compel him to violate the laws of charity,
religion and humanity.” But this Swiftian supposition does not tally
with the dedication to Lorenzo de’ Medici and his overt encouragement to
the Most Magnificent to seize the reins. Machiavelli plainly believes in
the sense he alleges hidden by the ancients in the myth of Chiron the
Centaur, who was the educator of rulers because he had the double
qualification of the brute and the man. In high politics crimes are only
crimes when they are blunders. Unsuccessful cruelty is unpardonable.
Wickedness should be pursued with an economy of means to end: like the
causes in Occam’s canon, crimes should not be multiplied _præter
necessitatem_. Politics is a sort of bee-keeping, and the master of the
hive will use the instincts and ethics of the little creatures for his
own purposes, his kindness will be as cold-blooded as his cruelty. Thus,
some three and a half centuries before Nietzsche, was expounded the
doctrine of the Superman, the splendid blonde beast who had passed
_Jenseits von Gut und Böse_. “The despised virtues of patience and
humility have abased the spirits of men, which Pagan principles
exalted.” It is in such precisely Nietzschean terms that Sir Thomas
Browne sums up, albeit unapplausively, “the judgment of Machiavel.” But
as a treatise on apiculture, “The Prince” is not rigidly scientific. The
Superman, alone upon his dizzy height, Diabolists and neo-Dionysians as
yet unborn to cheer him, has his moments of human weakness. Before the
crimes of Agathocles he falters, and remarks with delicious gravity,
“Still it must not be called virtue to murder one’s fellow-citizens or
to sacrifice one’s friends, or be insensible to the voice of faith, pity
or religion. These qualities may lead to sovereignty but not to glory.”
And there is a more general apologia in the concession that the times
are out of joint—in the grim Tacitean explanation that “he who deviates
from the common course of practice, and endeavours to act as duty
dictates, necessarily ensures his own destruction.” Super-morality
lapses here into morality.

Moreover, Machiavelli did not himself play the Superman. He wrote the
part—or founded it on Cæsar Borgia—but he did not act it. The Rubicon
’twixt thought and action he never crossed. His own morals appear to
have been conventionally excellent. Like Helvetius, who traced virtue to
the lowest roots of self-interest, he was of a rare magnanimity. As a
scientific observer he advises the Tyrant, if he cannot live in the
Republic he has conquered, to destroy it root and branch, but as a man
he bore torture and imprisonment for the cause of liberty. Indeed, in
his later years something of the _sæva indignatio_ of Swift seems to
have possessed his breast. It was Napoleon who was destined to incarnate
the maxims of Machiavelli, though on a far grander stage than even Cæsar
Borgia ever dreamed of: it was Napoleon who gave the greatest
performance of “The Prince.” And by a hitherto unnoted coincidence
Napoleon was born exactly three centuries after Machiavelli. Exactly
three hundred years (1469-1769) divided the nativities of the Superman
of Letters and the Superman of Action—’tis almost enough to revive
faith in the potency of planetary conjunctures. True, Nietzsche regards
Napoleon as but “half-Superman,” the other half being beast, but we have
seen that the bestial portion is a necessary factor of the Machiavellian
Superman, who is nothing if not super-dominant. What Nietzsche’s
Superman was to be, Nietzsche did not precisely know, though we may well
suspect that the direction in which he strained his vision for him was
not the horizon but the looking glass. Nietzsche has not even the credit
of inventing the Superman, for when Nietzsche was six years old,
Tennyson published “In Memoriam,” with its prophetic peroration:

                        “A closer link
        Between us and the crowning race. . . .

        No longer half akin to brute,
        For all we thought and loved and did,
        And hoped, and suffered, is but seed
        Of what in them is flower and fruit.”

Tennyson pressed home this idea of the further evolution of our race in
his very last volume, in a poem called “The Making of Man.”

        “Man as yet is being made, and ere the crowning Age of ages,
        Shall not æon after æon pass and touch him into shape?”

And again in “The Dawn.”

                            “Ah, what will _our_ children be,
        The men of a hundred thousand, a million summers away?”

More self-conscious a disciple of Machiavelli than Napoleon was our own
Thomas Cromwell, who carried “The Prince” as his political enchiridion,
and who within three years of its publication chopped off Sir Thomas
More’s head as coolly as a knight captures a bishop on a chess-board. If
you have to choose between love and fear, said the Master, then fear is
the stronger weapon. With fear, Thomas the pupil hewed his way to the
great ends he had set himself. Thomas Cromwell’s application of the
system was, however, vitiated by one radical mistake. By a paradox,
worthy of Machiavelli himself—and repeated in our own day by
Bismarck—“the Prince” he worked for was not himself but his sovereign.
Howsoever Thomas Crommay have appeared the true gerent, the final profit
was to the suzerain, and the axe of despotism which he had forged for
Henry VIII was turned against his own neck. Of his canon that traitors
should be condemned unheard, he was the sole victim. Possibly he might
have triumphed even over the flaw in his practice, had Anne of Cleves
been more personable. It was essential to his game to queen this pawn,
and queen her he did. But at what a cost! It has been said that if
Cleopatra’s nose had been longer, the world’s history would have been
other. Of the German princess’s nose it may be said that had it been
prettier—or perchance had Holbein flattered it less before it was seen
by the matrimonial agent—Thomas Cromwell would have continued to rule
England, and Europe might have been spared the Thirty Years’ War. But
even Supermen cannot change the shape of ladies’ noses, and in this surd
of a world, where the best laid plans may “gang agley” over the tilt of
a nostril, what avail your Supermen more than Supermice? The toasted
cheese is but temporary, the end of Napoleon is the mouse-trap.

The phenomena of history are indeed too multifarious for consciousness,
and the Machiavellian method of treating persons as things—in defiance
of the moral maxim—shatters itself upon the impossibility of foreseeing
all the permutations of the things. A bad prince is no more secure
against assassination than a good prince. A religious reformer may arise
and upset the snuggest peace. A failure of crops may precipitate
rebellion. A child’s arm may plug up a dam. In brief, lacking the
necessary omniscience, the shrewdest of Supermen is driving in the dark.
The upshot of Napoleon’s career was to make Germany and mutilate France.

It is through lack of omniscience, too, that we cannot obey the frequent
modern suggestion to breed the Superman—the Superman, that is, not as
the cold-blooded manipulator of man, but as his moral superior and
successor, Tennyson’s Superman, not Nietzsche’s. We are too abysmally
ignorant for evolutionary eugenics. We breed horses and roses for higher
types, but then we immeasurably transcend horses and roses. Who
transcends us so immeasurably that he should breed us? In breeding we
have a clear vision of our aim—to produce a thornless rose or a Derby
winner. What clear vision has any one of the Superman? It is impossible
to read even Nietzsche without seeing a spectral swarm of shifting
types. Moreover we breed only for physical qualities. What experience
have we of breeding for moral qualities? And what were all our breedings
compared with Nature’s inexhaustible experimentation, her thousand
million men and women of all shades and psychoses, her endless blendings
and crossings that yield now Nietzsches, now Isaiahs; yesterday Platos,
to-day Darwins and Wagners.

The Superman will come of himself: already man rises as imperceptibly
into him as he fades into the orang-outang. “This was no man,” said
Napoleon, reading the Sermon on the Mount—an involuntary admission by
the Machiavellian of a finer species of Superman than his own.

And this brings us to the paradox that the defect in Machiavelli’s
system was not in his morals but in his intellect. In the hive he
examined were creatures greater than he, obeying motives beyond his ken.
To him Princes ruled primarily for their own glory, for the pomp and
pride of power. Of the small but infinitely important class of rulers
who assume mastership only because they have the greatest power to
serve, he has no adequate conception. That there has sometimes been a
Pope who felt himself literally _servus servorum Dei_ passed his
comprehension. This falsifies his treatment of history, this makes his
vision imperfect, this throws his conclusions out of gear. The verse in
St. Matthew, “he that is greatest among you shall be servant of all the
rest,” represents a more scientific generalisation. As Chapman’s _Don
Byron_ (Act 3, Scene 1) reminds us, in his denunciation of “the schools
first founded in ingenious Italy,” the true

                “Kings are not made by art
        But right of nature, nor by treachery propt
        But simple virtue.”

But Machiavelli, that crude biologist, treats Moses and Cyrus as
creatures of the same species, would run together the Attilas and the
Buddhas. Hence the hard metallic sheen of his style as of an old Latin
prose-writer; of spiritual iridescence, of Jewish tenderness, of
Christian yearning, of even the Nietzschean ecstasy there is no trace.
It is not astonishing that he should have turned a scornful ear to
Savonarola’s message, dismissed him as a compound of fraud and cunning.
How dramatic is the picture of Mephisto listening to the preacher of San
Marco that week of the Carnival of 1497! (What a pity “Romola” does not
exploit that episode instead of using Machiavelli as a mere caustic
conversationalist). But though Machiavelli’s flair for crouching Cæsars
was not utterly at fault, though the Dominican did indeed aspire to be
“The Prince” of the Church, and even the power behind the thrones of the
Princes of Christendom, yet ’twas all _ad majorem Dei gloriam_ and for
the greater confusion of the infidel, and George Eliot has understood
this impersonal egotist infinitely better than his cynical contemporary
understood him. And this intellectual limitation—this absence of the
highest notes from his psychological gamut—must always keep Machiavelli
out of the first rank of writers. He cannot rise above the notion that
power is an end in itself and that those who can satisfy it “deserve
praise rather than censure.” If the King of France—he tells us—was
powerful enough to invade the kingdom of Naples, then he _ought_ to have
done it. Though Machiavelli could see that the individual’s crimes “may
lead to sovereignty but not to glory,” yet he did not question the right
of a State to absorb or shatter another. He saw that the world went on

                          “The simple plan
        That they should take who have the power,
        And they should keep who can,”

and he admitted that the rule was indispensable—if you went into
politics. This was his crime—High Treason against Idealism. Humanity
prefers to be guided by rules which it disavows. The splendid blonde
beasts who practised the maxims of Machiavelli shuddered at the scribe
who merely stated them. Nowhere probably was disgust with the Florentine
writer more vehement than in Venice, which employed assassins as a
principle of polity. Could that Turkish “Prince” who decreed that each
new monarch of his house must safeguard the dynasty by massacring his
swarm of brothers, or that Persian “Prince” who invented the principle
of blinding them, have seen the printed “Prince” of Machiavelli, they
with their correct Islamic or Zoroastrian principles would have shared
in the universal opprobrium.

That the world shudders still is shown by the apologetic attitude of his
commentators and even of his panegyrists. Not one but repudiates his
system, charitably traces it to the unhappy circumstances of his day, to
the welter of force and fraud amid which his lot was cast. Yet are these
circumstances essentially changed? The small urban republics have
vanished, but in their stead are the Great Powers. Cæsar Borgia and
Ezzelino are gone, but we have the Congo Ruler and the Trust Magnate.
“Every country hath its Machiavel,” says Sir Thomas Browne, and there is
no spot on earth where the maxims of “The Prince” are not in daily
operation. The voice may be the voice of Savonarola, but the hands are
the hands of Machiavelli.

Nay, it is often the voice of Machiavelli even when it sounds like the
voice of Savonarola. For, as Lord Acton subtly pointed out,
Machiavellism lurks in many a seemingly innocent and even pious
proposition. It is perhaps straining his point to find it in Jeremy
Bentham’s “greatest happiness principle,” but who shall doubt but that
it is involved in the popular idea that “Time tries all,” and that
everything happens for the best in the long run, and that history is,
after all, the Will of God? What are all these nebulous notions but the
acceptance of success—of the brute fact—as the moral standard? Less
obvious than the proposition that “God is on the side of the biggest
battalions,” they are substantially identical with it. They simply mean
that God _was_ on the side of the biggest battalions. They imply that
whichever party triumphed, God was with that party. So that many even of
those who reject Machiavelli with loathing are found to be unconsciously
Machiavellian.

Hallam in his “Introduction to the Literature of Europe” palliates the
darker features of the Machiavellian teaching by the nature of the
times, yet in his own “Europe during the Middle Ages,” writing of the
rapid decay of Charlemagne’s Empire under his son Louis, “called by the
Italians the Pious, and by the French the Debonair or Good-natured,” he
says “the fault lay entirely in his heart; and this fault was nothing
but a temper too soft and a conscience too strict. It is not wonderful
that the Empire should have been speedily dissolved.” And Charlemagne,
its peerless founder, is described as having divorced nine wives,
beheaded four thousand Saxons in a single day, and executed all who ate
flesh during Lent!

It is when I hear the words of Church or Press, Parliaments or Royal
Proclamations, that I fall into a rage against language, and even as
Sancho Panza blessed the man who invented sleep, I curse the man who
invented speech. In the beautiful dumb days the strong rent the weak in
sacred simplicity. Now the strong make pious speeches to show that the
eupepsia of the universe is their appetite’s aim, and the weak must
listen to proofs that they are being eaten for their own good. Happily
the serpent no longer talks, else were his slow slimy deglutition of the
living rabbit accompanied by a sermon. The State has not only killed
Christ but stolen his words. At the Hague the lion and the lamb lie down
together, and the concordial words flow on like music, till the lamb
suggests that the lion should pare his claws. And the lamb himself—is
he anything but a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Is he not at heart envious
of claws, always feeling his paws for talons of his own?

“And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee, thou shalt
smite them and utterly destroy them: thou shalt make no covenant with
them, nor show mercy unto them.” Where outside Machiavelli shall you
find a clean strong sentence like this of Moses? The Destroying Angel’s
sword shall be sharp and antiseptic as a surgeon’s knife; he shall leave
no writhing torsoes, no half-sawn limbs and festering wounds littering
the purlieus of life. But this utterance is too strong for Christian
stomachs, it belongs to the fee-fo-fum eye-for-eye period of the Old
Testament: with the New entered the reign of ethereal mildness, lilies
showering from full hands, festal fountains spouting the milk of human
kindness. Well might Wordsworth cry out:

                      “Earth is sick,
        And Heaven is weary, of the hollow words
        Which States and Kingdoms utter when they talk
            Of truth and justice.”

But even the Old Testament is comparatively sophisticated. This
extinction of the native tribes of Palestine is enjoined, not on
political grounds but on religious. It is not that Palestine, which
offers the most convenient territory for the refugees from Egypt,
happens unfortunately to be densely populated. No, virtue must be
vindicated, not brute force. But one cannot too much admire that the
Biblical historian chose the less nauseous of the two morals open to
him. “Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart,
dost thou go to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these
nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.” By a
remarkable exception in epics, Israel is the villain, not the hero, of
his own story. But all the same, the story has to be coloured in the
interests of righteousness. His successors in invasion have not been
content to blacken the autochthones, they have brightened themselves. It
is for their own uprightness that the Lord casts out the tribes before
them or sets them to rule over the heathen. The Lord calls them to
spread His word in countries closed to their commerce. He ordains they
should bear the White Man’s burden—the Black Man’s ivory and gold are
indeed no light weight. Pah! let us talk of politics like Machiavelli or
forever hold our peace.

And yet something can be said for the world’s hypocrisy. It is the
homage which the Relative pays to the Absolute, part of that yearning of
mankind for indefectible ideals, for Luther’s “pearl of certainty.” Its
Right must be Right in all circumstances under the stars, nay, before
the stars were born. Ethics shall not be a child of conditions; what
holds between man and man, must obtain equally between ruler and ruled,
even between State and State. But what is to be done when ethics demands
one thing and necessity the opposite? Necessity wins of course, but on
condition of not blazoning its victory. The Church, forbidden to shed
blood, exacts an expiation from its indispensable warriors, or gravely
invents the bloodless stake for its heretics, or with an even more
humorous preference of the letter to the spirit forbids its priests to
practise surgery. The negro, enfranchised by the Quixotic theory of the
American constitution, is disestablished by the Sancho Panzas who
miscount his votes. The Jew, commanded to rid himself of leaven during
Passover, sells his stock of groceries to an accommodating Christian
till the Festival be over. The Christian, to whom money-lending is a sin
against nature, hands over the necessary function to the accursèd Jew
with the sanction of St. Thomas Aquinas, or founds the Monte di Pietà
which Leo X permits to exact a fee on its loans to cover the cost of its
officials. Ethics, like the old astronomy, complicates itself with the
cycles and epicycles of practice, but the theory of the perfect circle
of planetary motion remains immutable. In Lombardy, in Florence, under
the very eye of the Pope, the industrial system of modern Europe founds
itself on money-lending, but no Encyclical removes the prohibition or
condones the sacrilege, or grants Christian burial to the impenitent
financier. The irresistible force of facts comes into collision with the
immovable body of principles, but the crash is soundless, and by a
delicate instinct Society looks the other way. The immortal principle is
buried silently—not a drum is heard, not a funeral note. For later
generations its deadness is a matter of course.

Even so mankind founds its social systems upon beautiful ideals and
averts its eyes from the rotten places of the fabric. It will concede
almost anything to practice, if practice will only remain under the
rose. This Social Conspiracy is sub-conscious. In war or in religion, in
sex or even the smaller animal functions, it works towards a harmony of
seeming, an artistic selection of the beautiful or the perfect with
rejection of the ugly or the jarring. Is not this indeed our highest
art, this art of civilisation, which, out of the raw stuff we are,
fashions us into the figures of an heroic and poetic masque? Costumed in
the skins of our fellow beasts or in the spoils of our vegetable
contemporaries, our dames pranked in the web of a worm, we ruffle it in
drawing-rooms as gods and spirits, no terrestrial weakness bewrayed. Our
true superiority to the brutes is that we are artists, and they are
naturals. Man _will_ not be a creature of Nature, as Coleridge noted.
All the world’s a stage and all the men and women players, or—to say it
in Greek—hypocrites. It is for bad manners that Machiavelli has been
boycotted.



                LUCREZIA BORGIA: OR THE MYTH OF HISTORY


                                   I

It was with a thrill that I came upon a holograph of Lucrezia Borgia in
the library of the University of Ferrara. I had already seen in a little
glass case at Milan, in the Ambrosian library, a lock of her notorious
yellow hair, and this wishy-washy tress, so below the flamboyance of its
fame, should have prepared me for the Ferrara relic. For the document
was—of all things in the world—a washing list! The lurid lady—the
heroine of Donizetti’s opera, the Medea of Victor Hugo’s drama—checked,
perhaps mended, her household linen! It has been sufficiently washed in
public since her day. But this list alone should serve to cleanse her
character. Indeed Pope Alexander’s daughter does not lack modern
whitewashers—what ancient disrepute is safe from them? Roscoe, Gilbert
and Gregorovius defend her, and even in her lifetime she had her circle
of court laureates that included Ariosto himself. Her platonic
friendship with Cardinal Bembo is rather in her favour. The copiously
grey-bearded ecclesiast in cap and robe, whose portrait may be seen at
Florence in the corridor between the Pitti and the Uffizi, does not look
like a man who would consort with the legendary Lucrezia. Yet even a man
of letters of Bembo’s status is liable to colour-blindness when the
Scarlet Woman is a reigning duchess. Bembo, we know, was afraid to read
the Epistles of St. Paul, for fear of contaminating his Latin; we are
less certain that any fear of contaminating his character would keep him
from reading the epistles of Lucrezia. But it seems fairest to accept
the view that once freed by her third marriage from the vicious
influences of the Vatican and the company of the Pope’s concubines, she
became _rangée_, steadying herself into an admirable if pleasure-loving
consort of the ruler of Ferrara! Nevertheless even in Ferrara rumour
connected her with the murder of the poet Ercole Strozzi, and the guides
used to count among their perquisites the blood-flecked wall of the
Palace in which, by way of revenge for her extrusion from a respectable
Venetian ball-room, she poisoned off at a supper-party eighteen noble
Venetian youths, including a natural son of her own whom she poignarded
in the frenzy of the discovery.

And Addington Symonds, even after the huge monograph of Gregorovius in
her favour, can only exchange the idea of “a potent and malignant witch”
for “a feeble woman soiled with sensual foulness from the cradle,” a
woman who could look on complaisantly at orgies devised for her
amusement, applauding even when Cesare chivied prisoners to death with
arrows.

But it was reserved for the latest biographer of the Borgias (Frederick
Baron Corvo) to write of her: “She was now the wife of royalty, with a
near prospect of a throne, worshipped by the poor for her boundless and
sympathetic charity, by the learned for her intelligence, by her kin for
her loving loyalty, by her husband for her perfect wifehood and
motherhood, by all for her transcendent beauty and her spotless name.
Why it has pleased modern writers and painters to depict this pearl
among women as a ‘poison-bearing mænad,’ a ‘veneficous Bacchante’
stained with revolting and unnatural turpitude, is one of those riddles
to which there is no key.” As for there being no key to it, that is
nonsense, for naturally Lucrezia Borgia would share in the opprobrium
due to the pravity of Cesare Borgia and Pope Alexander VI, and Corvo
himself claims that Gregorovius proves that these calumnious inventions
came from the poisoned pens of her father’s enemies. This judgment of a
reckless writer may however be discounted, for Corvo throughout defends
that papal Antichrist, Lucrezia’s father, in a spirit which Machiavelli,
to whom “virtù” and “magnanimità” meant efficiency whether for good or
evil, could not possibly better. And he gaily announces in his preface
that he does not write to whitewash the House of Borgia, “his present
opinion being that all men are too vile for words to tell.” In such a
darkness, in which all cats are grey, Lucrezia Borgia might well seem as
white as a blue-eyed Persian. But the paradox remains that Corvo may not
impossibly be right. As, but for superhuman strainings, Dreyfus might
have gone down to history as a traitor to France, so may the Borgian
Lucrezia have been as blameless as the Tarquinian to whom indeed Ariosto
boldly compares her. The woman who protected the Jews during a famine,
provided poor girls with dowries, passed evenings over her embroidery
frame and held the esteem of the greatest poet and the greatest stylist
of her day, may really have lived up to that washing list. _Chose jugée_
is never absolutely true in history, and there is no trial but is liable
to revision. Even the saints are not safe; the devil’s advocate may
always appeal. Sir Philip Sidney himself has been sadly toned down in
his latest biography, and _per contra_ it may well be that Lucrezia
Borgia has innocently shared in the blackness of the Borgias. But how
shall we ever know? How is it possible—especially considering the
public and private conspiracy of falsification and suppression—to
uncover the truth even about our contemporaries? Our very housemates
elude us. The simplest village happening is recounted by the onlookers
in a dozen different ways; an historic episode varies according to the
politics of the recording newspaper. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
recount their great story, each after his own fashion, so that even
“gospel truth” is no synonym for objective veracity. Letters are taken
as invaluable evidence in past history, yet every letter involves a
personal relation between the writer and the receiver, is written in
what the logicians in a narrower sense call “the universe of discourse,”
so that words written to one man differ from the same words written to
another man, and still more from the same words written to a woman.
Facetiousness, exaggeration, under-statement, pet-words, words in
special meanings, are the note of intimate intercourse. ’Tis a cipher to
which nobody else has the key, and which can never be read by the
chronicler. “Our virtuous and popular Gloster” might mean “our vicious
and universally odious Gloster.” How shall the peering student of musty
records behold the wink in the long-vanished eye of the writer, the
smile on the skull of the reader? A frigid note may veil a burning love;
a tropic outburst disguise a dying passion. Who has the clue to these
things? And in the literature of an age the things that are understood
are exactly the things that are not written down, and thus the things
that are written down are the things that are not understood. What would
we not give for a little realistic description of houses, clothes and
furniture in the Bible! But such information only drifts into the text
indirectly and by accident. Official documents are the bed-rock of
history, yet even such formal things as birth-certificates are
unreliable, for did not the wife of my dearest friend momentarily forget
where her own baby was born? Suppose Peggy grows up a celebrity, an
Academician or even a Prime Minister, what is to prevent her
birth-plaque being affixed to the wrong house?

Once, and once only, did I strive to penetrate to the sources of
history—it was the life of Spinoza—and I found to my amaze that the
traditional detail of his doings and habits rested on little more solid
than the mistranslated scribblings of a Lutheran pastor who had occupied
his lodging a generation after his death. And once in my life did I
examine State papers. It was in the Archives of Venice; and as I
wandered through the two hundred and ninety-eight rooms of the Recording
Angel—though I did not verify the statement that there are fourteen
million documents—I saw enough chronicles and certificates, enough
Orators’ letters in cypher from every court in Europe (with inter-bound
Italian translations) to keep in life-long occupation a staff of
Methuselahs. And this for only one town, or, if you will, for one
empire! Who is it that has the patience to sift this mammoth dust-heap,
or who, having the patience, is likely to have the insight to interpret,
or the genius to embody its essence? How shall we know which ambassador
lied abroad for his country’s good, and which for his own? How shall we
abstract the personal equation from their reports? How allow for their
individual prejudices, jealousies, stupidities, rancours,
mal-observations and dishonesties?

As the wise Faust pointed out, History is a subjective illusion.

        “Mein Freund, die Zeiten der Vergangenheit
         Sind uns ein Buch mit sieben Siegeln;
         Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heisst,
         Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist
         In dem die Zeiten sich bespiegeln.”

Or as honest Burckhardt puts it more prosaically in his preface to his
“Renaissance in Italy”: “In the wide ocean upon which we venture, the
possible ways and directions are many; and the same studies which have
served for this work might easily, in other hands, not only receive a
wholly different treatment and application, but lead also to essentially
different conclusions.”

This would be the case even were our information on the past complete.
The reduction of this wilderness of material to ordered statement and
judgment would permit innumerable ways of seeing and summarising. But
consisting as our knowledge does for the most part of mere ruins and
shadows, or worse, of substantial falsities, such infinite perspectives
of misreading are opened up that the bulk of written history can be only
an artistic manipulation of hypotheses. What wonder if the original
research and original insight of successive historians is constantly
changing the colours and perspectives? Read Pope Gregory’s letter to the
German princes describing the humiliation of Henry IV, and judge for
yourself whether the famous story of the three days’ penance can really
be built up out of “_utpote discalciatus et laneis indutus_,” &c. or
whether it should be blotted out from the history-books as some modern
writers demand. Is there, indeed, any episode to which we can pin a
final faith? Has history bequeathed us anything on which the duty to
truth is not so large as almost to swallow up the legacy? Popular wisdom
in insisting that “Queen Anne is dead” selects the only sort of historic
affirmation which can be made with certainty. As for any real picture of
a period, how can the manifold currents of the ocean of life be
represented in a single stream of words?

No; the truth about Lucrezia Borgia will never be known. But what
imports? Our librettists and dramatists need themes, our novelists
cannot do without “veneficous Bacchantes.” If Lucrezia Borgia was not a
“poison-bearing Mænad,” somebody else was. Perhaps that other has even
annexed the reputation for virtue that should have been Lucrezia’s! What
matters who is which? Let them sort themselves out. If the Mænad or the
Bella Donna is indispensable to the novelist or the dramatist, so is the
Vestal Virgin and the Saint, and though his models may have exchanged
names, he keeps his canvas true to reality. Cleopatra, to judge by her
coins, had a face of power, not beauty, but shall the artist therefore
surrender the conceptual Cleopatra? Assuredly there has been no lack of
beautiful women to sterilise statesmen! Great figures are even more
necessary in life than in art. Life would indeed be a “Vanity Fair” if
it were “a novel without a hero.” We need monuments, memorials, masses,
days of commemoration—for ourselves, not for the heroic dead. Dead men
hear no tales. Posthumous fame is an Irish bull. We cannot atone to the
dead for our neglect of them in their lives, but we need the memory of
their lives to uplift ourselves by, we need the outpour of reverence for
nobility of soul, we need to lose ourselves in the thought of greatness.
But whether we are worshipping the right heroes is comparatively
immaterial. Let us not be depressed, then, at the dubiety of history or
at that labyrinth of Venetian archives. We can do without the belief
that history is a just tribunal, so long as we preserve the belief in
justice, and keep a sufficient store of heroes to applaud and villains
to hiss. “_La vie des héros a enrichi l’histoire_,” said La Bruyère,
“_et l’histoire a embelli les actions des héros_.” It is a fair give and
take.

Peculiarly immaterial, so long as we preserve an ennobling conception of
majesty, is the real character of that most embellished class of
heroes—the Kings. Were we pinned down to drab reality, popular loyalty
would not infrequently be paralysed. For that on the hereditary
principle a constant and unfailing succession of genius and virtue
should be supplied to a nation, contradicts all biological experience,
yet nothing less than this is demanded by the necessities of State and
the yearning of every people for wise and righteous leadership. In truth
heredity is ruled out of court. Kings are not born but made. By a
marvellous process of mythopoiesis the monarch is manufactured to suit
the national need, and from the most unpromising materials prodigies of
goodness and genius are created, or, in the case of female sovereigns,
paragons of beauty. It is wonderful how far a single feature will go
with a princess, and what crumbs of sense and courage will suffice for
the valour and wit of a prince. Bricks can be made—and of the highest
glaze—without a single wisp of straw. Of course a neutral character
supplies the best basis for apotheosis: traits too positive for evil or
for ugliness would render the material intractable. But there are few
things too tough for the national imagination to transform. Perhaps the
manufacture of monarchs is thus facile because the article is not
required to last. The duration of the myth need not exceed a couple of
reigns, nor need it be robust enough for exportation. Humanity, while
insisting on the perfection of its own monarchs, is prepared to admit
that prior generations and foreign peoples have not been so fortunate:
indeed my school history of England made out that the country had been
governed up till the Victorian era by a succession of monsters or
weaklings. ’Tis distance lends disenchantment to the view. Even,
however, when the hero is real, he never bulks as large as the phantasy
of his idolaters. Napoleon himself was a pigmy, compared with the image
in the heart of Heine’s “_Zwei Grenadiere_.”


                                   II

Parisina, the Marchioness d’Este, that other heroine whom Ferrara has
contributed to romance, or—if you will—to history, for she makes her
first English appearance in Gibbon’s “Antiquities of the House of
Brunswick,” has been less fortunate in finding defenders; perhaps
because her guilt was less. Very shadowy appears that ill-starred
Malatesta bride, of whom nothing seems recorded save that she and her
paramour, Hugo, her husband’s natural son, were beheaded by her
righteously indignant spouse. Yet she grew suddenly solid when I found a
scribble of hers neighbouring Lucrezia Borgia’s washing-list. “_Mandate
per lo portatore del presente dieci ducati d’oro per una certa spesa la
quale habiamo fatto._” It sounds suspiciously vague, I fear. “For a
certain expense.” What could Parisina have bought with those ten ducats?

But for aught we know they may have been dispensed in charity. And for
aught history can tell us, she may have been as spotless as Desdemona.
Gibbon, mark you, is by no means convinced of her guilt. If the couple
were innocent, he observes oracularly, the husband was unfortunate; if
they were guilty, he was still more unfortunate. “Unfortunate” is a mild
word for the Margrave, as if his begetting of Hugo were a mere casualty.
It is true that at this period in Italy there was little discrimination
against bastards, especially those of Popes and Princes. Still Nicholas
had only himself to blame for thrusting his Hugo into the contiguity of
his wife. Byron, indeed, in his mediocre poem of “Parisina,” makes Hugo
offer vivid reproaches to his father (mellifluously transformed to Azo,
which the poet omits to say was really the name of the first Margrave of
the line). But though these reproaches are comprehensive enough:

        “Nor are my mother’s wrongs forgot,
         Her slighted love and ruined name,
         Her offspring’s heritage of shame,”

and embrace even the charge that Parisina was originally destined for
Hugo himself, but refused to him by the father on the brazen ground that
his birth was unworthy of her, nevertheless Byron, like most vicious
men, preserves the conventional view of the husband’s rights.

In his poem Parisina’s fate is left artistically uncertain.

        “No more in palace, hall, or bower
         Was Parisina heard or seen.”

But the guides know better. She was beheaded in her dungeon, and the
original door leading to that dungeon is still standing in the mighty
old castle, and I passed through it. The cell is two storeys below this
grim portal, and is reached through a trap-door and passages, and then a
second trap-door and more passages, and then a door of iron on wood, and
then a door wholly iron, with an iron flap through which her food was
pushed. Poor Parisina, poor fluttering bird, caught in that cage of
iron! The very light filters into this cell only through a series of six
cobwebbed gratings, tapering narrower and narrower, as though some elf
of a prisoner might squeeze his way out into the moat. Through such
peep-holes, and as fuscously, filters the light of history to us adown
the cobwebbed centuries.



  SICILY AND THE ALBERGO SAMUELE BUTLER: OR THE FICTION OF CHRONOLOGY


                                   I

To cycle in Sicily is to experience the joys or the sorrows of the
pioneer, to pedal backward on the road of Time, and revisit the
pre-bicycle period ere man had evolved into a rotiferous animal. Palermo
has witnessed the landing of many tribes and races: Phœnician and Greek,
Roman and Goth, Saracen and Norman, Spaniard and Savoyard. But not till
my comrade and I disembarked with our wheels had any cyclist troubled
the Custom House. Others, indeed, had preceded us by land, but we hold
the record by sea—the first marine invaders. And our arrival, by way of
Tunis, fitly fluttered and puddered the guardians of the port. Three or
four officials and a chaos of bystanders, quidnuncs, and porters,
entered into excited discussion. The recording angel—a mild and muddled
clerk, whose palsied pen shook in his fingers—turned over not only a
new leaf, but a new book, and made us sign in three wrong places of the
immaculate tome; we had to answer a world of questions, and await
innumerable calculations and consultations. Meantime, without, the rich,
romantic harbour fretted our curiosity, and the painted Sicilian carts
gave an air of fairyland. The very dust-carts were perambulating
art-galleries, pompous with grave historic themes, or pious with carven
angels or figures of the Virgin; the horn of the horses was exalted,
springing in scarlet from the middle of their backs, their blinkers and
headpieces were broidered in red. The workaday world was transfigured to
poetry, and the old Church-poet’s maxim,

        “Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws,
         Makes that and th’ action fine,”

seemed translated into visual glorification of the dignity of labour and
the joy of common life.

Everything combined to make us kick our heels with unusual viciousness.
Finally we were condemned to pay about fourpence each, and, mounting our
ransomed machines, we rode forth into the strange new world.

Palermo itself proved a disappointment; a monstrous, straggling, stony,
modern city, wedged between mountain and harbour, as difficult to escape
from as a circle of the Inferno. Miles on miles of hard riding still
leave you hemmed in by unlovely houses, harried by electric trams. But
at last, by muddy byways, you come upon fluting shepherds, grey
olive-trees, flowering almonds, orange-groves, gleaming like fairy gold
through bowers of green, and beyond and consecrating all, the
blue-spreading, sun-dimpled sea. You have reached the land of
Theocritus—though Theocritus himself, by the way, is quite unknown to
the Palermese booksellers. And if Palermo is prosaic, Monreale, not five
miles off, is one of the remotest towns in Europe. Perched eleven
hundred and fifty feet above the sea, over which it looks superbly
across a pastoral landscape, it is a dirty network of steep and ancient
alleys, with shrines at street-corners, and running fountains down
steps, and large yellowish jars on the house-ledges by way of cisterns.
The roadway swarms with morose, shawled, swarthy men, lounging and
gossiping, while the busy women stride along, bearing brimming
vase-pitchers on their gracefully poised, kerchiefed heads; goats,
greedy of garbage, feed ubiquitously, some rampant on tubs of squeezed
lemons; poultry peck and scurry through the slime; the milkman passes
with his mobile milk-can, the she-goat, to be tapped at every door; on
the mouldering façades stream flaring insignia of orange-peel, strung
together for sale to confectioners, or macaroni hangs a-drying in the
sun. And, for crowning assurance of mediævalism, the magnificent
Roman-Saracen cathedral, surely one of the seven wonders of Christendom,
offers its bronze portals and its Byzantine blaze of mosaics, Bible
illustrations naïve as a Noah’s ark. Monreale is already the true
Sicily, with its aloofness from the modern age, and with its
architecture carrying like geological strata the record of all the
influences to which it has been exposed. Presently the cyclist or the
motorist will leave a new imprint upon the historic soil, saturated with
the blood of rival races, and with the finest poetry of Pagan mythology.
At present there are few roads for him to follow, and fewer inns to
lodge him, and the rumour of brigands dogs his footsteps, though we
ourselves never encountered even an exorbitant landlord. Like Blondins
of the bicycle, we pursued our unmolested way over tenuous ridges,
’twixt ditch and rut, daring to swerve no hair’s-breadth, and the only
terror of the countryside was that which we ourselves produced. Wherever
we passed, pigs scuttered and poultry fluttered, and goats bleated and
kids scampered; horses reared and broke from their traces, mules
stampeded in craven terror, dogs fled howling or dumb-struck, whole
populations crowded to the doors and balconies, children escorted us
literally by hundreds, racing by short cuts across the mountain-paths to
get additional glimpses of us from parallel parapets. Like ominous
comets we flared through the old Sicilian villages, scattering awe and
wonder. The only sensible creatures were the donkeys; they regarded us
stolidly, or turned a head of mere intelligent curiosity upon our
receding mechanisms. Our wheels had become Time-machines, tests of the
difference from standard central-European time, and they showed Sicily
half a century—nay, a whole cycle—slow.

Chronology is indeed a metaphysical figment, and even this little globe
still offers all the centuries simultaneously to the traveller.

Fantastic is the common reckoning of time by which our globe revolves in
a temporal continuum, so that it is the same date—within twelve
hours—all over its surface. The Irishman who spoke of the so-called
nineteenth century was severely logical. The nineteenth century has not
even yet dawned for the bulk of our planet, which presents in fact a
bewildering diversity of dates. The Pyrenees divide not merely right
from wrong, as Pascal was puzzled to find, but even century from
century.

Meals in the byways of Sicily were rather haphazard. The hotels had
often nothing in the house, and even when one advanced the money to get
something, there might be a dearth in the neighbourhood. Macaroni is,
however, a standby. But a single bed-sitting-dining-and-coffee-room
spells adventure rather than accommodation. The possession of one spare
room sets up the hardy Sicilian peasant-woman as a hotel-keeper. Ceres
wandering through Sicily in search of Proserpina must have had a poorish
time, unless she fell back upon her own horn of plenty. It was a
voluptuous emotion to glide one evening into the broad white streets of
Castelvetrano under a crescent moon and into the haven of a real hotel.

Castelvetrano was the nearest town to one of the great goals of our
pilgrimage—the ruins of Selinunte. The Normans did not conquer Sicily
as permanently as those old Greeks, and even in their decay the Greek
temples of Sicily rank with the most precious vestiges of ancient art.
Some hours of cycling brought us to the magnificent chaos of graven
stone that fronts eternity on a barren field by a lonely shore. There
they lie, seven temples, sublime in their very huddle and pell-mell, a
wilderness of snapt and tumbled columns, Ossa piled on Pelion. Only one
of Vulcan’s freaks—and the fire god had a workshop under Etna—could
have wrought this mighty upheaval. In utter abandonment the land
stretches towards the empty sea, and where priests sacrificed and
worshippers trod, spring the wild parsley, the purple anemone, the
marigold, and the daisy. From clefts of the great broken bases or in
hollows of the fallen capitals push dwarf palms and myrtles, like the
lower world of the vegetable reasserting itself over the stone that had
mounted to beauty by alliance with man’s soul. An odd monolith left
towering here or there but accentuates the desolation.

The temples of Concord and of Juno Lacinia still stand four-square to
the winds at Girgenti. But of all the temples that preserve for us “the
glory that was Greece,” that of Segesta stands predominant, if only by
reason of its situation. From afar it draws the eye upwards, gleaming
almost white on its hilltop. But, standing amid the wild fennel in its
grassy court, you see that the noble Doric pillars, though marvellously
preserved through three-and-twenty centuries, are corroded in great
holes and bear the rusty livery of Time. Behind the temple the earth
sinks into a gigantic cup, forming a natural theatre, and in front
stretches a vast spread of rolling hills, with beautiful cloud-shadows
of purple and brown and silver, and a little glimmer of the Gulf of
Castellamare. The few cultivated patches, the faint trees and solitary
farms in the dim background, scarcely modify the impression of Nature
unadorned. Nothing is given you but the largest elemental things—the
sun, the sea, the barren mountains, and the sternest, sublimest form of
human architecture. Nothing is known even as to the god to whom the
temple was dedicated.

One could wish that mighty Syracuse, with its memories of Æschylus and
Pindar, had lapsed to such a wilderness instead of surviving as a small
modern town for tourists. A Babylon with restaurants and cab-fares is
bathos. But Taormina—the first Greek settlement—still remains, despite
its pleasure-pilgrims, the culminating point of a visit to Sicily.
Culminating, too, in a sense that will not recommend it to cyclists.
Ours are perhaps the only machines that have laboured steadily and daily
up this forbidding steep, some four hundred feet above the sea and the
railway station. The road mounts even higher—past walled gardens of
roses and lemons and almonds, till from the ruined castle at Mola you
command a marvellous scape of land and sea. But the mere every-day view
from Taormina itself is one of the greatest pictures of the Cosmic
Master, for out beyond the sunlit straits shows the Calabrian foot of
Italy, generally muffled in a fairy mist, while the Sicilian shore is
washed by a pale rainbowed streak of sea. And for eternal background
Etna towers, infinitely various, now in snow-white majesty, now
cloud-veiled and sombre, now ablaze with an apocalyptic splendour of
sunset. But it is in the wooded gorges around Taormina, with their
tumbling rock-broken streams, that the climax of Sicilian
picturesqueness is reached: here is all the wild witchery of romantic
landscape, set to music, as it were, by the piping and trilling of some
solitary, far-off shepherd, whose every note travels clear-cut in the
lucid air. In the grove below you passes a procession of young women,
their right hands supporting lemon-baskets on their shawled heads. Their
feet are bare, and they sing a wistful Eastern melody as they move
slowly on. A boy leads a black cow by a string round its horns. All is
antique and pastoral. Or rather, the Eclogues of Virgil and the Idylls
of Theocritus seem contemporary.

At the Greek Theatre, too, that naked majestic amphitheatre, how
tinkling and trivial would have sounded the dialogue of modern drama.
Sophocles and Æschylus alone could fill the spaces with due thunder. Or
was not the large drama of the Greeks positively forced upon them by
this great natural theatre, o’er-towered by mountains, roofed by the
sky, and giving on the sapphire sea? The infinities and the eternities
conspired with the dramatist in a religious uplifting, and his utterance
must needs be spacious and noble.


                                   II

I was not aware that any English writer had achieved the distinction of
stamping his name upon a Sicilian street, or even—quainter, if lesser
glory—upon a Sicilian inn. Yet at Calatafimi, a little town so obscure
(despite its heroic Garibaldi memories) that it had not yet reached the
picture-postcard stage, a town five miles from a railway station, up one
of the steepest and stoniest roads of the island, I lodged at the
Albergo Samuele Butler, and walked through the Via Samuele Butler. Yes,
this peculiar immortality was reserved in a Catholic land for our
British iconoclast. It was the Communal Council that resolved that the
street leading from the Nuovo Mercato towards Segesta should “honour a
great man’s memory, handing down his name to posterity, and doing homage
to the friendly English nation.” But the change in the name of the inn,
which is in another street, must have been due to the personal
initiative of the proprietors, in commemoration of their distinguished
client. Meantime “the friendly English nation” cares even less about
Samuel Butler of “Erewhon” than about Samuel Butler of “Hudibras,” if
indeed it distinguishes one from the other.

Thus the super-subtle satirist, understanded not of the British people,
paradoxical in death as in life, has left his highest reputation in the
hearts of Sicilian peasants. The recluse of Clifford’s Inn, the stoic
and cynic of civilisation, was hail fellow well met with the cottagers
of Calatafimi.

It was only natural that the pundits of Trapani should welcome with
complacent acquiescence the theory of “The Authoress of the Odyssey,”
which was received in England with such raised eyebrows; for did not
Butler locate the adventures of Ulysses as a voyage round Sicily, and
identify Trapani as the place where the lady writer composed the
Odyssey? Butler won equal gratitude in Italy by his exhumation and
glorification of the sculptor Tabachetti, whom he identified with the
Flemish Jean de Wespin. But these learned lucubrations of his would not
have sufficed to enthrone Butler in the hearts of the simple. That was
the reward of his Bohemian bonhomie. “He always remembered all about
everybody,” says his friend, Mr. Festing Jones, “and asked how the
potatoes were doing this year, and whether the grandchildren were
growing up into fine boys and girls, and never forgot to inquire after
the son who had gone to be a waiter in New York.”

“He called me _la bella Maria_,” the septuagenarian landlady of the
Albergo Samuele Butler told me, as she showed me the photograph he had
given her—the portrait of the melancholy tired thinker, whom she
survives with undiminished vitality and fire. He was done in a group,
too, with her and her husband, and altogether appeared to have found a
rest from the torture of thought and the bitterness of “The Way of All
Flesh” in these primitive personalities.

And here again I had occasion to note the absurdity of chronology, the
first century and the fortieth lodging under the same roof—for Butler
was at least as far ahead of the twentieth century as his hostess was
behind it. Pleasant it is to think that there is a possible human
community between epochs so sundered.

Spring after spring came Butler to the inn that now bears his name, and
having followed unconsciously in his footsteps, and slept in his very
bed, I wonder how he could have found life tolerable there. The
Admirable Crichton of his day, novelist and poet, musician and painter,
scientist and theologian, art critic and sheep farmer, and perhaps the
subtlest wit since Swift, Samuel Butler seems to have reduced his
personal demands upon the universe to a smaller minimum than Stevenson
in his most admired moments. And that not from poverty, for his
resources in later life were adequate, but from sheer love of “plain
living and high thinking.” The walls of his bedroom in the formerly
yclept Albergo Centrale are whitewashed, the ceiling is of logs, the
washstand of iron, and even if the water-jug is a lovely Greek vase with
two handles, and the pail a beautiful green basin, this is only because
Sicily supplies no poorer form of these articles. The bed is of planks
on iron trestles. The Albergo itself, with its primitive sanitation, is
in keeping with its best room. For Sicily it is, perhaps, a Grand Hotel,
embracing as it does an entire flat of three bedrooms on the second
floor (a cobbler occupies the ground floor, and the mystery of the first
floor I never penetrated). This three-roomed hotel is shut off from the
rest of the house by a massive portal. On the first night there appeared
to be even a dining-room, but morning revealed this as a mere
ante-chamber, windowless, and depending for its light upon the bedroom
doors being open. On the second night even this substitute for a
dining-room vanished, owing to the advent of another traveller, and the
ante-room became a bedroom, so that I had to make my entrances and exits
through the new lodger’s pseudo-chamber. The landlady also passed
through it on her morning visit to me, which was made without any regard
for my morning tub. “_È permesso?_” she asked gaily, as she sailed in.
This was her ordinary formula—first to come in, and then to ask if she
might.

When I opened my door I had a curious double picture impressed upon my
memory: the shirted backs of two young men dressing, each in his room;
the one in the bedroom proper was seen in a pale morning light, the
occupant of the windowless ante-room was vividly Rembrandtesque under
his necessary lamp. Each was singing cheerily to himself as he made his
toilette.

Nor was the food superior to the accommodation. Butter was unobtainable
during my stay, and breakfast consisted of dry bread, washed down by
great bowls of coffee. Fish was not, and the meat had better not have
been. I must admit that the dry bread was served with an air that made
it seem wedding-cake. “_Pane!_” _la bella Maria_ would exclaim
ecstatically, dumping the coarse, scarce edible loaf on the table with a
suggestion of Diana triumphant in the chase. “_Caffè!_” was another
hallelujah, as of a Swiss Family Robinson discovering delectable
potions. And “_Latte!_” bore all the jubilation of a cow specially
captured and despoiled for the first time in human history of the
treasure of its dugs. Maria’s manner of waiting revitalised the common
objects of the breakfast table, made them a fairy-tale again; under her
magic gestures every piece of sugar grew enchanted and every spoon an
adventure. And Butler’s tastes were of the simplest, even in Clifford’s
Inn, where, out of consideration for his old laundress, he made his own
breakfast before she turned up. All the same, the attraction of
Calatafimi for Butler is difficult to explain. It is one of the dingiest
Sicilian towns, littered with poultry, goats, children, and refuse,
though, of course, you are soon out of it and amid the scenery of
Theocritus. But the view from Butler’s own balcony—often a paramount
consideration for a writer—was not remarkably stimulating; hemmed in by
the opposite houses, though rising into hills and a ruined castle.

Nor was he a student of the campaign of the Thousand, Homeric as was the
battle of Calatafimi. It may be that he found the spot more secluded
than a seaport like Trapani for pursuing his topographical
investigations into the wanderings of the woman-made Ulysses; or it may
be that he found unceasing rapture in the contemplation of the aforesaid
temple of Segesta that dominates the landscape from its headland, albeit
a closer contemplation of its noble columns costs a five-mile walk and
climb. Here Goethe came and philosophised on the passing show of human
glory, and here, too, Butler may have loved to muse.

In a fine sonnet on Immortality, published in the _Athenæum_ a few
months before mortality claimed him, Butler expressed his belief that
the only after-life for the dead lay in the hearts of the living, and
only upon their lips could those meet whom the centuries had parted.

        “We shall not even know that we have met,
         Yet meet we shall, and part, and meet again
         Where dead men meet, on lips of living men.”

It is strange to me, who lived—as chronology would say—in the same age
as Butler, and in the same London, and only a minute’s walk from him, to
think that I should yet never have met him save on the lips of the
peasants of Calatafimi, lips that spoke only Sicilian.



                               INTERMEZZO


                                   I

Here have I been in Italy half a book, and scarcely a page about the
Pictures or the “National Monuments.” _Ci vuol pazienza._ I fear you
will soon cry “hold enough,” as I have cried many a time in these
endless galleries congested with bad pictures, yet apparently never to
be weeded. For the bad Masters were just as prolific as the good,
besides having the advantage of numbers. Civerchio, Crespi, Garofalo,
the Caracci, Penni, Guercino, Domenichino—the very names recall acres
of vast glaring canvases, and the memory of Pistoja with only one
picture to see—and that a Lorenzo di Credi—is as the shadow of a great
rock in a weary land. Berenson, that prince of connoisseurs and creative
critics, has done brave service both in dethroning and uplifting. Yet am
I convinced there is still a wilderness of invaluable pictures by
unvalued artists, who, to-day obscure, shall to-morrow be exalted in
glory. Mutations of taste are not yet foreclosed: Michelangelo himself
with his Super-statues, may recede and rejoin the mellifluous Raphael,
while Siena replaces Florence. The art of Japan may win further
victories, or we may follow the great expounder of Renaissance painting
to his Chinese Canossa. Or the revolt against anecdote may spread to
sacred anecdote, and disestablish the bulk of Christian art. I can
imagine a newer Pre-Raphaelitism ruling the vogue, and Stefano da
Zevio’s _St. Catherine in the Rose-Garden_ becoming the centre of the
world’s desire. I have a weakness myself for this Veronese picture, just
because it is so frankly free from so many artistic virtues, so
unpretentious of reality, so candidly a pattern, a reverie in roses and
birds and angels and gold, a poem, a melting music. I like this new
chord of roses and haloes, it is a rare harmony, a lovely marriage of
heaven and earth. I can well imagine a visual art arising which will
repudiate realities altogether. The cinematograph has come to complete
the lesson of the camera, and to throw back the artist on his own soul.

But whatever revolutions in taste await us, my peregrinations have
convinced me that there is no single consciousness in the world that
holds a knowledge of the treasure of art, even though we limited the art
to Italian, nay though we omitted sculpture and architecture and
tapestries, and the delicious terra-cottas of Luca della Robbia, and
ivories and bronzes and goldsmiths’ work, and the majolicas of Urbino
and Pesaro, and cameos and medallions and glass-work, and book-binding
and furniture, and the _intarsiatura_ of _cassoni_ and pulpits and
choir-stalls and lecterns, and the pavement art of the graffiti, and
everything save drawing and painting. For when every church, house, and
gallery in the world had been ransacked for every trace of Italian brush
or pencil on plaster, canvas or paper, and all this registered in the
one poor human brain, there would still remain the unexplored ocean of
illumination—the manuscript books and missals, and decrees and charters
of guilds and confraternities and Monti di Pietà, and lists of monks and
rules of monasteries, and matricular books of Drapers and Mercers, and
even decorative wills and deeds of gift—all that realm of beauty so
largely extinguished by printing.

Upon which fathomless ocean embarking, we may well behold without too
much of awe or envy the sails of the master-mariners. Sufficient to
drift and anchor at the first enchanted isle.

Less enchanted, however, are even the galleries of masterpieces than the
quiet bowers one finds for oneself—like that chapel in Arona where,
unveiling an altar-picture in despite of a tall candle-stick, I caught
my breath at the sudden serene beauty of Gaudenzio Ferrari’s _Holy
Family_; or like that reclusive Venetian church, where the luminous
unity of Bellini’s _Madonna and Saints_ pierces the religious gloom.
Pictures in collections are as unreal as objects in museums, less so
perhaps to-day than when each was painted for a definite altar,
refectory, wall or ceiling, yet none the less destroying one another’s
beauties. ’Tis only in the visual arts that we surrender ourselves to a
chaos of impressions; imagine Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi, Rossini, Gounod,
sounding simultaneously. I could have wept to see how Simone Martini’s
_Annunciation_ in the Uffizi had suffered by being transplanted to more
gilded society. Gone was that golden and lilied purity which used to
illumine the corridor.

And yet to see a picture in its own place is often equally
heartbreaking. Some of the greatest pictures have carefully selected the
most sombre and inaccessible situations.

Europe has perhaps no more melancholy chamber than that art-shrine in
Rome in which the pleasure-pilgrims of the world crick their necks or
catch bits of frescoed ceiling in hand-mirrors. ’Tis not merely the bad
light—for even in the best morning light the Sistine Chapel is
fuscous—nor the sombre effect of the discoloured and chaotic _Last
Judgment_, with its bluish streakiness and dark background—nor the dull
painted hangings, nor the overcrowding of the ceiling with its Titanic
episodes and figures, nor even the Signorellis and Botticellis round the
walls, though all contribute to the stuffy sublimity.

The oppressiveness is partially due to the fact that the architectural
ceiling that Michelangelo painted—as artificial as the hangings—has
faded rather more than the frescoes themselves, so that the figures seem
to droop higgledy-piggledy upon the spectator’s head instead of standing
out statuesque in their panels and spandrils. I dismiss the specious
theory of a painting friend that they thus only hover the better, as
prophets and patriarchs should. I refuse to be crushed even by
Michelangelo. I know that a ceiling can soar, not menace, for have I not
expanded under the gay lightness of the Pintoricchio ceiling in the
Borgia apartments! Even the heavy and gilded ceiling of the Scuola di
San Rocco at Venice, sombre enough in all conscience, by preserving
architectural plausibility, and resting on painted pillars, escapes
seeming to fall upon one’s head. Yet at best a ceiling is a poor place
for any save the most simple design. Michelangelo, or rather his papal
employer, went against the principle of decoration. A room with such
massive masterpieces on its ceiling could not but be top-heavy. Moreover
the art feeling can only be received in comfort. If we are to be
transported outside our bodies, we must not be distressfully reminded of
them by the straining of neck muscles. How foolish and provoking of
Correggio to put his finest soaring figures not only into a cathedral
cupola, but into a cupola lit only by a few round windows. And his
frescoes in the other dome at Parma are equally invisible. One is
reduced to enjoying them in the copies. Michelangelo himself undertook
the dizzying task of vault-painting with vast reluctance, and complained
in a sonnet that he had grown a goitre, and that his belly had been
driven close beneath his chin. He achieved a miracle of art—in the
wrong place. Perhaps Julius II was not so Philistine in thinking more
ultramarine and gold-leaf would have brightened it up.


                                   II

A prophet is never without honour in his own country after his fame has
been recognised by the world; indeed, his own country will cling piously
to him after the tide of his larger reputation has receded, being as
slow to unlearn as to learn. Particularly is this true of painters. And
when the artist has achieved the feat of substituting himself for a town
in the popular imagination, like Bassano, Garofalo, Luini, Sassoferrato,
Correggio, the town thus snubbed is usually prudent enough to identify
itself with his glory. But it must be humiliating for a town like
Correggio, once the capital of a principality, to owe its only hold upon
the present to a painter who did not live there, and of whom it does not
possess a single picture. Let arrogant cities take warning: the time may
come when their only niche in history will be provided by some obscure
citizen now neglected, if not ill-treated or repudiated.

Once arrived, then, the Old Masters are not to be shaken off, even after
they have departed again. Their birthplace or their working centre makes
a cult of them, and it is touching to see them at home, each presiding
over a _sala_ at least of his works, and though depreciated abroad, yet
still at an exorbitant premium in his local shrine, like some obscure
paterfamilias basking and burgeoning at the family hearth. Guercino is
still a god at Cento, his statue in the piazza, his pictures in the
gallery. Possagno has a shrine with casts of all Canova. With what a
gusto did the cicerones of Mantua talk of Giulio Romano! How the name
rolled from the tongue, how it brightened a dingy fresco and glorified a
dubious canvas. _Si! Si! Tutto di Giulio Romano!_ Poor Giulio Romano!
Not that those giants of yours tumbling on their heads in the Palazzo Te
are as detestable as Dickens said. Those of David and Goliath in the
great courtyard are even charming. And more fortunate than poor Guido,
who must share his Bologna with Francia, you have a town to yourself.
Even in his own _sala_ poor Guido is put in the shade by the poetry of
Niccolò da Foligno.

Moretto is properly the hero of Brescia, though not born there, and he
dominates the Palazzo Martinengo with his charming _St. Nicholas
presenting the School Children to the Virgin_, and a dozen other
pictures, as he dominates the bishop’s palace and the churches. It is
rare that so large a proportion of a painter’s work should remain at
home, even when the painter himself is as homekeeping as was Moretto.

Very proud are they in Forli of Melozzo, exhibiting engravings of all
his works, and even a rescued shop sign of his representing a
pepper-brayer banging with his pestle. Marco Palmezzani, too, is high in
honour in Forli. Correggio, who made his home in Parma, has been adopted
by that city, and it is one of the few things to the credit of Marie
Louise that she inspired this sacrosanct treatment of his work, in rich
pilastered frames, under sculptured and vaulted ceilings, with two
pictures to a room, or in the case of the _Madonna della Scodella_ a
room to itself. Poor Parmigiano, the real native of Parma, is thrown
into the shade, though there is a Parmigiano room in the Pinacoteca and
a Parmigiano statue in the Piazza della Steccata.

Urbino, a city as dead as Correggio, except for the fame of its ancient
majolica, resembles it further in not possessing a single example of the
work of its greatest son, so that Raphael’s father, who had the talent
which so often sires a genius, pathetically holds the place of honour
with his _Santa Chiara_ and other more or less mediocre pictures. And
yet there were five years at least in which Guidobaldo Montefeltro might
have summoned Raphael to that famous Court which Castiglione depicted as
a model. To-day, of course, the steep cobbled old city is all Raphael,
with the exception of Polidoro Virgili, “the most learned man of letters
of the fifteenth century,” and Gianleone Semproni, “Epic Poet”(!). A
Contrada Raffaello, and a bronze bust, and a monument 36 ft. high, all
attest his glory. But it would have been far wiser to have perpetuated
his exclusion from the Montefeltro Palace than to represent him by a
hideous complete set of cheap tiny photographs of his works, all set
side by side in a large frame which stands in the chapel, together with
his skull in a glass case! At least, it is not really his skull—it has
not even that excuse—it is merely a cast in clay, though the clay was
taken from his skeleton, from the cavity where once the heart that loved
all beauty had pulsed. And here, looking upon the scenes his youthful
eye had dwelt on; here, where one would wish to surrender oneself to
memories of his magical creations, this skull with its perfect teeth is
set to grin its mockery of art and life.

An anthropologist, we are told by an eminent historian of art, supposed
this cast to be that of a woman, and we are invited to see in it the
explanation of Raphael’s suavity. But I had been satisfactorily
explaining this suavity myself by the amenities of the tame
landscape—olives, poplars, hawthorn, a half-dried river, pairs of white
oxen—as I trudged the forty kilometres from Pesaro to Urbino, till to
my chagrin the character of the country changed and grew wilder and
wilder as I approached his birthplace.

At dusk I was climbing up to an Urbino towering romantically above me
with its few twinkling lights and wafting down the music of its vesper
bells. My persuasion that I had explained Raphael dwindled with every
painful step up the “Contrada Raffaello,” probably the steepest and
worst-paved street in the world, and vanished altogether by the time I
had climbed one of the gigantic stone staircases of the rock-hewn
fortress city. And next morning I looked from the loggia of the great
hook-nosed Duke upon wonderful rolling mountains, range upon range,
snow-capped at the last, and winding paths twisting among them in a
great poetry of space. Ha! Poetry of space! Was not that now set down as
Raphael’s one real claim to greatness? And it was here no doubt he had
found it, just as Piero dei Franceschi had found it, when here at the
Duke’s invitation. But a hundred thousand other people—I suddenly
remembered—have been born or have lived at Urbino, and why—I asked
myself—were they not inspired to paint like Raphael? And a hundred
thousand other men have had feminine skulls (not to mention women), and
why have they not produced _Transfigurations_ and _Schools of Athens_?
Alas! I fear the Taine method has its limitations. Rousselot in his
“_Histoire de l’Évangile Éternel_” talks as if Calabria with its
solitary mountains and valleys could not help producing Joachim of
Flora, nor Assisi St. Francis. But why do these places not go on
producing saints and mystics?


                                  III

If a painter’s skull is so offensive artistically and so futile
scientifically, what shall we say of a poet’s heart? “Look into thy
heart and write” may be a sound maxim, but to look into somebody else’s
heart, is another matter. Separate sepulture for the poet’s heart is not
unknown. But the exhibition of a poet’s heart as a literal literary
asset, or library decoration, is, I imagine, only to be seen in the
University of Ferrara. ’Tis the heart of the poet Monti who died in
1828, after having frequently resided in Ferrara, as a local tablet to
“the sovereign poet of his age” testifies. Be it known that to Ferrara’s
University turn the hearts of all poets, inasmuch as hither were
transported the bones of Ariosto—and here a beautifully bound Ariosto
album by all the poets of the day still awaits Napoleon’s promised
attendance at the osseous installation, side by side with a lonely
phalange of Ariosto that was equally belated for the ceremony. Monti
could not resist the desire to bequeath his heart to this shrine of the
Muses, and lo! there I beheld it, in a sort of air-tight hour-glass, a
little brown heart, preserved in alcohol like a physiological specimen.
Could anything be more prosaic of a poet, nay, more heartless? Fie upon
you, Vincenzo! Was it not enough that your side-whiskers are perpetuated
in the bust in the Ambrosian library? Are you an Arab that you should
hold the heart the centre of the soul? Would you persuade us that this
quaint ounce of flesh was the heart that contracted and dilated with
tragic passion as you wrote your “Aristodemo,” the heart that beat out
the music of “_Bella Italia, amate sponde_,” the heart that swelled with
the tropes of the Professor of Eloquence at Pavia? Was it with these
auricles and ventricles that you pumped up your poetry, was it these
cardiac muscles that wrested the laureateship from Foscolo and
Pindemonte? Was this “the official organ” of Napoleon?

Go to! Wear your heart on your sleeve, if you will, so long as it throbs
with your life, but foist not upon us this butcher’s oddment as the
essential you. Is it that you would abase us like Hamlet’s gravedigger
with abject reminders of our mortality? Pooh! a lock of your hair during
your lifetime were no more distressing. Not with this key did
Shakespeare unlock his heart. And if we wish to behold your heart, we
shall turn to your poems, and see it divided among many loves, equally
susceptible to Dante and Homer. But this offal—let it be buried with
Ariosto’s phalange!

Indeed, in justice to Italian taste, it should be stated that this heart
has already been buried once. The courteous librarian of the University
informed me that at Monti’s death in 1828, it was sent to the library by
a beloved friend who had placed it in a pot of alcohol. But Cardinal
Della Genga vetoed its exhibition and it was interred in the Certosa,
under the poet’s monument. There it remained till 1884, when it was
decided to carry the lead case in which the heart was buried to the
library. In 1900 the case was opened in the presence of the authorities
and the heart found splendidly preserved. It was therefore placed on
view in a chest belonging to the poet, and containing papers of his. But
the sooner it is removed again the better. That sort of “literary
remains” scarce goes with the atmosphere of libraries.


                                   IV

But from the heart in a more romantic sense the most learned atmosphere
is not safe, and I am reminded of another University affair of the heart
which I stumbled upon in Bologna.

As we know from old coins, _Bononia docet_. But somewhere about 1320
Bologna ceased to teach. For there was a strike of students. An old
stone relief in the Museo Civico, representing a crowned figure holding
a little scholar in his lap and stretching his hands to a kneeling
group, celebrates the reconciliation of the Rector with his scholars and
sets down in Latin a record of the episode. “The scholars of our
University being reconciled with the city, from which they had departed
in resentment at the capital punishment inflicted upon their colleague
Giacomo da Valenza, for the ravishing of Constanzia Zagnoni, by him
beloved, the Church of Peace was erected in the year 1322, in the Via S.
Mamolo and this memorial was placed there.”

What a tragic romance! What a story for a novelist, the Church, the
World, and the University all intermingled, what a riot of young blood
all stilled six hundred years ago!

The Doctors of that day still sit in carven state beside this memorial;
learned petrifactions, holding their stone chairs for a term of
centuries, Bartoluzzo de’ Preti, Reader of Civil Law, who died in 1318,
and Bonandrea de’ Bonandrei, Reader of Decretals, who died in 1333. The
“pleasant” Doctor this Bonandrea is styled; seasoning, no doubt, his
erudition with graces of style. I figure him deeply versed in the
decisions published by Gregory IX in 1234, and a profound expounder of
the Isidorian Decretals.



      LACHRYMÆ RERUM AT MANTUA: WITH A DENUNCIATION OF D’ANNUNZIO


Befitting was it at Mantua to feel so poignantly the _lachrymæ rerum_. I
should perhaps have felt it at Virgil’s own tomb at Naples, had that not
been so vague and rambling a site that no moment of concentration or
even of conviction was possible. But the ancient Ducal Palace of the
Gonzagas in the Piazza Sordello had the pathos of the unexpected.
Nothing in its exterior suggested ruin and desolation, nay the
scaffolding across the façade spoke rather of restoration and repair.
The tall red brick arches of the portico beneath, the double row of
plain straight windows in the middle, and the top tier of ornamental
arched windows, surmounted by the battlements, conveyed an impression of
Gothic solidity and moderate spaciousness. It was not till I had walked
for many minutes through an endless series of dilapidated chambers and
mutilated magnificences—propped-up ceilings and walled-up windows and
rotting floors, and marble and gold and rich-dyed woods and gorgeous
ceilings, and mouldering tapestries and paintings, and musty grandeurs
multiplied in specked mirrors, and faded hangings and forlorn frescoes,
and chandeliers without candles, and fly-blown gilding and broken
furniture and beautiful furniture and whitewash and blackened plaster
and bare brick and a vast unpeopled void—that there began to grow upon
my soul the sense of a colossal tragedy of ruin, a monstrous and
melancholy desolation, an heroic grandeur of disarray, a veritable poem
of decay and destruction. Not the Alhambra itself is so dumbly eloquent
of the passing of the Magnificent Ones.

        “Babylon is fallen, is fallen.”

For the interior answers not to the exterior, whether in preservation or
in character. It is renaissance and ruin, with a minor note of the
Empire; all the splendours of the world fallen upon evil days. Only by
remembering the mutations of Mantua can one account for this hybrid
Cortile Reale of dishevelled grandeurs, whose face so belies its
character and its fortunes.

The Palace was begun under the dynasty which preceded the Gonzagas, it
saw all the glories of the Renaissance, saw Mantua sacked by the
Germans, and the Gonzaga dynasty extinguished by the Austrians, and the
city fallen to the French, and re-fallen to Austria, and caught up into
the Cisalpine Republic, and then into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy,
and then Austrian again till the yoke was broken by Victor Emmanuel and
the stable dulness of to-day established. It is in fact a microcosm of
Mantuan history from the day Guido Bonacolsi laid the first stone
somewhere near the year 1300. The building had not proceeded very far
before the Gonzagas came into power in 1328, in time to stamp the
apartments with their character, and it is with Isabella d’Este that its
most inventive features are associated.

A hundred and eighty rooms, said the janitor, and when one remembers the
crowd of resident courtiers and the great trains with which the
Magnificent Ones travelled, one should not be astonished at the
resemblance of an ancient Palace to a modern Grand Hotel. Isabella
d’Este’s brother-in-law, Lodovico the Moro, once visited her here with a
suite of a thousand persons, and that was only half the number with
which Lodovico’s brother, Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, descended upon
Florence in 1471. But no modern hotel could keep open a week with such
apartments. I do not refer merely to their dearth of conveniences, but
to their mutual accessibility, their comparative scarcity of corridors.
I do not see how a man could go to bed without passing through another
man’s bedroom. Grandeur without comfort, art without privacy, such was
the Palace in its peopled prime. Think of it to-day—grandeur in rags,
art torn from its sockets, and a lonely scribe trailing through vaulted
and frescoed emptiness.

The portraits of the Gonzagas are still in the Hall of the Dukes, but
when I ascended the beautiful staircase to the vast armoury, I found an
aching void. The weapons had been carried off in the sack of Mantua—a
sack so complete that Duke Carlo on his return had to accept a few
sticks of furniture from the Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Hall of the
Caryatides preserves its paintings but the Apartment of the Tapestry is
a chandeliered vacancy. The Apartment of the Empress (for Maria Theresa
crossed Mantua’s line of life) is in yellow silk upholstery with gilded
ceilings and an antique chandelier from Murano, but one wall is relapsed
to rough brick, in sharp contrast with the white medallioned ceiling.
The Refectory or Hall of the Rivers survives, a curious symphony in
brown, a long vaulted room with frescoes of Father Po and his
brother-rivers and lakes, with grottoes, and caryatides, and marmoreal
mosaics, its windows looking on a hanging garden—yea, Babylon is
fallen!—with a piazza of Tuscan columns and a central temple.

A sense of passing through a fantastic dream-world began to steal upon
me as I wandered through the Hall of the Zodiac with its great blue roof
of stars and celestial signs and ships drawn by dogs, and its walls gay
with figures in green and gold, and came to a bed with tall green
curtains, in which the inevitable Napoleon had once slept. He was not, I
mused, of those who could not sleep in a new bed. Followed a suite of
three rooms of the Emperor, decorated with painted tapestry, the real
removed to Vienna.

And the nightmare continued—one long succession of cold stone floors
below and crystal chandeliers on high, bleakly glittering. There was a
Hall of the Popes, bare as a barrack. There was a long shiny gallery of
bad pictures, which was once a shrine of the Masters. There was a Ducal
Apartment modernised, but with the old gilded and bossed ceiling, and
dark cobwebbed canvases of the Flemish school. There was the Hall of the
Archers, picturesque with the great wooden rafters of its ruined roof
and still painted with illusive white pillars, statues, and scenes. Most
monstrous of all was the many mirrored, many chandeliered Ball-room—its
rows of mirrors reflecting what dead faces, its gold frieze of _putti_
still echoing what madrigals and toccatas, the gods of Olympus looking
down from its frescoed ceiling, Apollo driving his chariot and four, and
the Arts, the Sciences, Parnassus, Virgil, Sordello, peeping from every
arch and lunette. And from the Hall of the Archers my nightmare led me
through Ducal Halls and still other Ducal Halls, till I had passed
through seven—vasty Halls of Death, with marvellous gilded ceilings and
unplastered walls, or with plaster or whitewash over frescoes, or with a
sixteenth-century ceiling swearing at an elegant Austrian bathroom (hot
and cold). Vivid, even in this strange dream, stood out a ceiling
intaglioed with a labyrinth of gilded wood recording the victory of
Vincenzo over the Turks:

        “Contra Turcos pugnavit
             Vincenzo Gonzaga”

—and intertangled repeatedly with the labyrinth the device which
d’Annunzio has borrowed for his latest novel—_Forse che si, forse che
no_—and reproduced upon the cover. An old mirror with the glass
half-sooted over reflected these glories drearily and showed me the only
living face in this labyrinthine tomb.

And so at last by many rooms and ways and up a little staircase of
eleven steps under a painted ceiling, I came, like a soul that has
travailed, to the Apartment of Paradise, the bower of the beautiful
sweet-voiced Isabella d’Este, where, under her ceiling-device “_nec spe
nec metu_,” she lived her married life and her long years of widowhood,
with her books and her pictures and her antiquities, playing on her
silver lyre and her lute and her clavichord, and corresponding with her
scholars and poets, “the first lady of the Renaissance.” Piety for this
legendary “_dame du temps jadis_” seems to have preserved her six-roomed
apartment much as it was, with her wonderful polychrome wooden ceilings
and her wonderful doors fretted with porphyry and marbles and her
bird’s-eye views of great cities she had not seen—Algiers, Jerusalem,
Lisbon, Madrid—and her real view of the panorama sloping towards the
Po; this combination of a river, a garden and a lake being so _stupendo_
to the inhabitants of that melancholy region of Italy that Isabella’s
apartment took thence its name of Paradise, much as that dull Damascus
is “the pearl of the East.” Her music-room, too, is intact, save for the
rifling of its pictures. Its intarsia depicting dulcimer, virginal,
harp, and viol, and musical notation, its heavy-gilded vaulted ceiling
with its musical staves and other decorations, and the little bas-relief
showing herself with her beloved instruments, remain as in the days when
Gian Trissino wrote a _canzone_ “To Madonna Isabella playing on her
lute.” But the Mantegnas she commanded, the Lottos and the Perugino, are
at the Louvre, doubtless at the behest of Napoleon, that despot of a
greater Renaissance to whom even Isabella’s formidable brother-in-law,
the Moro, was a pigmy, though both of them died in prison and exile, as
is the habit of the Magnificent Ones.

Did my nightmare end in this Paradise, softening in this quiet bower
into a sleep

        “Full of sweet dreams and health and quiet breathing”?

Nay, it grew only more incoherent—vast Halls ruined by being turned
into barracks, the statues smashed by a rude soldiery, the pictures
slashed, and only the inaccessible splendours of the ceiling
safe—though not from the damp; in the Hall of the Triumphs no Triumph
remaining save the Triumph of Time and of Fate, Mantegna’s pictures of
the Triumphs of Cæsar haled to Hampton Court, only their empty oaken
frames here gaping; corridors, empty and long, corridors echoing under
the footstep, corridors adorned with stuccos and rafaellesques; the Hall
of the Moors with a splendid old ceiling and figures of Moors on a
frieze of gilded wood; the Corte Vecchia; the Apartment of Troy, with
crowded wall-frescoes by Giulio Romano, Mantegna, Primaticcio; the
lovely salon of Troy, dismantled, discoloured, its frescoed legend of
Troy undecipherable, its ceiling of intaglioed wood dilapidated; the
Hall of the Oath of the Primo Capitano, the Hall of the Virtues, Halls
anonymously mouldering; the Saletta of the Eleven Emperors denuded of
Titian’s portraits, to the profit of the British Museum; the Hall of the
Capitani with a Jove of Giulio Romano thundering from the ceiling but
ironically damaged by real rainstorms; the Saletta of Troy, with more
Homer and Virgil—do you begin to have a sense of the monumental
desolation? But you have yet to figure me drifting in my dream through
the Court of the Marbles and the empty Sculpture Gallery with its great
ruined ceiling and the _Cavallerizza_, or Hippodrome, the largest of its
time, now stilled of the clangour of tournament and the plaudits of
ladies, and the Apartment of the Boots and the Gallery over the lake,
and another garden hanging dead, with a Triton for a tombstone and owls
for mourners, the Apartment of the Four Rooms, blackened by the smoke of
days when they were let as lodgings, and Halls and more Halls, and still
more Halls and Cabinets, and the Hall of the Shells, with its tasty
pictures of fish and venison, and the Hall of the Garlands, and the
Apartment of the Dwarfs, with their miniature chambers and their
staircases with small squat steps—a quarter in itself!

_Basta!_ The nightmare grows too oppressive. Why wake the buffoons from
their pigmy coffins of dwarf oak?

Poor little jesters! Are their souls, too, I wonder, stunted, and is
there for them in heaven some Lilliputian quarter, where the Magnificent
Ones must make sport for _them_?

“Isabella Estensis, niece of the Kings of Aragon, daughter and sister of
the Dukes of Ferrara, wife and mother of the Marquises of Gonzaga,
erected this in the year 1522 from the Virgin’s bearing.”

So runs—O rare Renaissance lady—the Italian vaunt in the frieze round
thy Grotto, and I reading it from thy little courtyard, sit and chew the
cud of bitter fancy. Poor Madonna Isabella, whose inwoven name still
clings so passionately to thy bourdoir walls, in what camera of Paradise
dost thou hold thy court? Methinks thy talent for viol and harp, and
that lovely singing voice of thine, should find fit service in that
orchestral heaven, where thou—always _desiderosa di cosa
nuova_—enjoyest perchance an ampler pasture for thy sensibilities.
_Forse che si, forse che no_. But from earth thou art vanished utterly,
and Renaissance for thee is none. Where be thy pages and poets and
buffoons, thy singing seraphs, thy painters and broiderers, thy
goldsmiths and gravers, thy cunning artificers in ivory and marble and
precious woods? Where is Niccolò da Correggio, thy perfect courtier?
Where be Beatrice and Violante, who combed thy hair, and Lorenzo da
Pavia who built thy organ, and Cristoforo Romano who carved thy doorway
and designed thy medal, and Galeotto del Carretto who sent thee
roundelays to carol to thy lute? Have all these less substance than the
very brocades in which thy soul was wont to bask? Can these chalcedony
jars of thy Grotto outlive them, these shells mock their flippant
fleeting? And thy rhyming and thy reasoning, and thy gay laughter and
that zest to ride all day and dance all night—could all this
effervescence of life settle into mere slime? And this hideous
doubt—this fluctuant _forse_—can we really face it _nec spe nec metu_?

A horn sounds and steeds clatter up and down thy graded staircase. The
hounds give tongue, the hawk flutters on thy wrist. The great spaces of
the _Cavallerizza_ fill with jousting paladins; dames in cloth of gold
and silver look down from the balconies, princes and ambassadors dispute
their smiles. Where has it vanished, all that _allegro_ life—for I must
speak to thee by the stave—that gay gavotte that went tripping its
merry rhythm through the vasty vaulted halls? Whither has it ebbed? On
what shore breaks that music?

And that Mantuan populace that poured in like a stage-crowd to hear its
Dukes take the oath of fidelity—are the supers, too, dismissed for ever
with the run of the dynasty? And the Dukes themselves, the haughty
Gonzagas, is it possible that they are crumbled even more irredeemably
than those plasterless walls of their palace? Can it be that Mantegna’s
portraits are less phantasmal than the originals?

“For the honour of the illustrious Lodovico the Magnificent and
Excellent Prince, and unconquered in Faith, and his illustrious Consort
Barbara, the incomparable glory of women, his Andrea Mantegna, the
Paduan, executed this work in 1473.”

At last, at last something lives and breathes in this vast wilderness of
shadows. Bless you, Barbara, incomparable glory of women, with your
strong masculine face; and you, too, Magnificent long-nosed Lodovico.
Far have I been driven in my dream—I am wandered even to the adjoining
ruin of the Ducal Castle—but now I am with the quick, with pigments
whose life, though it has its fading, is a quasi-immortality compared
with our transience. Go, get you to my lady’s chamber, and tell her to
be painted, for this canvas complexion is the sole that will last.

Isabella d’Este lives at Vienna, recreated by Titian, and at Paris
Vittore Pisano shows us what a princess of her house was like, painting
beauty of face and brocade against a Japanese background of flowers and
butterflies. A more shadowy life she lives in this legend of the
princess of the Renaissance, which the prince of Italian writers has
revived in his novel, “_Forse che si, forse che no_,” a book in which my
Italian friends tell me d’Annunzio has won yet another triumph of
language, old words being so cunningly mingled with new that they do not
jar, but chime. D’Annunzio is a demi-incarnation of the Renaissance
spirit, exanimate of the Christian half, and it is characteristic that
the qualities round which his adoration of Isabella plays are the
qualities not of a great lady, but of a great courtesan; a leader of the
demi-monde. But as d’Annunzio lives in a half-world, what can his
heroines do but lead it? His Isabella d’Este—as re-created through the
worshipful eyes of Aldo—is the rival in dress of Beatrice Sforza,
Renata d’Este, and Lucrezia Borgia; marchionesses borrow her old clothes
as models, Ippolita Sforza, Bianca Maria Sforza, and Leonora of Aragon
are hopelessly out-dressed. Her sister Beatrice alone sticks like a
thorn in her side—Beatrice whose wardrobe had eighty-four accessions in
two years! But Isabella squeezed ninety-three into one year!! Lucrezia
Borgia, when she went to marry Alfonso d’Este, had two hundred
marvellous chemises; Isabella outdid her, and even Lucrezia must have
recourse to her for a fan of gold sticks with black ostrich feathers.
Isabella invented new styles and new modes, and the fashion of the
carriage at Rome. Isabella loved gems, particularly emeralds, and
succeeded in obtaining the most beautiful in existence. She had her
goldsmiths at Venice, at Milan, at Ferrara. She possessed not only the
finest jewels, but the finest settings, rings, collars, chains,
bracelets, seals, and so through the list of gewgaws and baubles. She
was the admiration of France. She adored perfumes and compounded them,
and masks, and sent Cæsar Borgia a hundred, and had the most exquisite
nail-files for manicuring, and was head over ears in debt—_per sopra ai
capelli_—for she had a mad desire to buy everything that took her
whimsy. Has any one ever better summarised the eternal courtesan?

Not a word about the nobler Isabella, the kind-hearted lady who was
always interceding for criminals or unfortunates; not a word of the
Isabella of unspotted reputation in an age of demireps (naturally
d’Annunzio would hush this up); not a whisper of the Isabella who felt
the defence of Faenza against Cæsar Borgia “as a vindication of the
honour of Italy.” Scarce a hint of the inspirer of humanism, the
patroness of some of the finest artists of all time; still less any
suggestion of the other Isabella, the housewife who sent salmon-trout to
her friends, the philosopher who, when the King of France had entered
Naples, pointed out to her lord that the discontent of the people is
more dangerous to a monarch than all the might of his enemies on the
battlefield, and the worldly wise woman who, when he was hesitating over
an inglorious military appointment, bade him take the cash and let the
credit go.

So complex an Isabella is beyond the scope of d’Annunzio, whose Isabella
Inghirami is an elemental creature of passion and tragedy.

“_Forse che si, forse che no._” An inhabitant of the full world,
beholding this motto written and rewritten in the ceiling-labyrinth of
the Gonzaga Palace, might fall into contemplation of the labyrinth of
human life, and see this device scribbled all over it; he might hail it
as the philosophy of Montaigne in a nutshell, and jump, if he were a
novelist, at this magnificent setting for some tale of high speculative
fantasy. But for d’Annunzio there can be only one problem lying between
these mighty opposites. Will a woman yield to her lover, or will virtue
resist him? To this petty issue must these measureless words be
narrowed. ’Tis not even a _forse_. With d’Annunzio there can be no
negative in such an alternative. And so the mighty Mantuan ruin which
has known so many desolations receives its last humiliation, and passes
into literature as a background for lust. _Sunt lachrymæ rerum._

The true Isabella d’Este has been as much rarefied by the Renaissance
legend as she has been materialised by d’Annunzio. For she cannot be
wholly exonerated from d’Annunzio’s panegyric. “Would to God,” she cried
at sight of her brother-in-law’s treasure, “that we who are so fond of
money possessed as much.” It was this treasure of the Duke of Milan’s
that did, indeed, make her sister Beatrice a thorn in her side, if also
a rose in her breast, since darling Duchess Beatrice set the pace at a
rate ruinous to the Marchioness of Mantua. Isabella could not even go to
Venice at the same time as Beatrice, lest all that magnificence (whose
very leavings overwhelmed me in her Palace) should appear shabbiness.
And when she lost her mother, she appeared more anxious about the proper
shade of mourning than the proper sentiment of grief. (How came
d’Annunzio to have missed this trait? What a chance for analysis of the
æsthetic temperament!) More pardonable was her anxiety as to the colour
of the hangings in the Moro’s rooms, her hurried borrowing of plate and
tapestries, when he impended with that suite of a thousand. But even for
Beatrice’s death she seemed to find some satisfaction in the ultimate
reversion of her much-coveted clavichord, and she found it possible to
borrow a Da Vinci portrait from the Duke’s former mistress—her sister’s
cross. Nor—after the Duke was in exile—does it seem very loyal to that
fallen idol and faithful admirer, to have ingratiated herself with the
French conqueror. That she should rejoice in the election to the papacy
of her profligate kinsman, Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, was perhaps not
unnatural, but when every allowance is made for her virtues, it must be
admitted that she was not utterly unworthy of d’Annunzio’s admiration.

She was, in brief, a Magnificent One, and if the Magnificent Ones are,
as a rule, less monstrous when they are women, at the best they are a
seamy shady lot, grinding the faces of the poor, that their babes may
lie in foolish cradles of gold, and building themselves lordly
pleasure-houses designed by hirelings of genius. Even Da Vinci
prostituted his genius to plan a bathroom for that minx of a Beatrice,
and a pavilion with a round cupola for the castle-labyrinth of his Most
Illustrious Prince, Signor Lodovico. Yet Lodovico must be commended for
his taste, which is more than can be said for the Magnificent Ones of
to-day, who are apt to combine the libertine with the Philistine. Save
for the mad King of Bavaria, I can recall no modern monarch who has had
a man of genius at his Court. The late King Leopold exacted gold and
executed evil on a scale beyond the dreams of the Moro, but where were
his Leonardos and Bramantes? Burckhardt tells us that the Renaissance
Despot, whose sway was nearly always illegitimate, gathered a Court of
genius and learning to give himself a standing; the pompous dulness of
our modern Courts shows that Gibbon’s plea for stability of succession
failed to reckon with the stagnation of security.

Prosaic compared with the fate of the Palace at Mantua is the fate of
the Castle of Ferrara, the cradle of Isabella d’Este. ’Tis one of those
gloomy massive four-towered structures that recall the fables of the
giants, with its moat still two yards deep and its drawbridge intact—a
barbarous mediæval pile, forbidding by daylight and sinister in the
moon, with a great clock that has so much leisure that it strikes the
hour before every quarter.

Yet this grim fortress, originally built by a despot as a refuge from
his subjects, is merely the seat of telegraph and other civic offices;
like some antediluvian dragon tamed and harnessed, instead of wastefully
slain, by the St. George who gleams above the portcullis.

In the piazza before the castle, where I saw only a cab-rank of
broken-down horses, the _festa_ of this patron-saint of Ferrara was wont
to set Barbary horses racing for the pallium, and splendid
battle-chargers ramped in that great tournament which was held by Duke
Ercole, Isabella’s father, in honour of his son-in law, the Moro, and
which was won by Galeazzo di Sanseverino, the model of the _Cortigiano_.
Isabella d’Este in her glad virginal youth walked her palfrey up and
down the great equine staircase, now given over to messenger boys and
clerks. Under the sportive ceilings and adipose angels of Dosso Dossi,
or within that girdling frieze of _putti_ driving their teams of birds,
beasts, snakes or fishes, pragmatic councillors hold debate. In the
castle ball-room are held—charity dances!

But infinitely the saddest relic of the Magnificent Moro is his former
palace in Ferrara. Why he needed a palace in Ferrara I do not know,
unless to accommodate the overflowings of his suite when he visited his
ducal father-in-law. Of this palace the excellent Baedeker discourses
thus: “To the S. of S. Maria in Vado, in the Corso Porta Romana, is the
former Palazzo Costabili or Palazzo Scrofa, now known as the Palazzo
Beltrami-Calcagnini. It was erected for Lodovico il Moro, but is
uncompleted. Handsome court. On the ground-floor to the left are two
rooms with excellent ceiling-frescoes, by Ercole Grandi; in the first,
prophets and Sybils; in the second, scenes from the Old Testament in
grisaille.”

It could not have been done better by an auctioneer. Here is the
reality. A courtyard with arches, dirty, refuse-littered, surrounded by
a barrack of slum-dwellings. The first room I penetrated into was
palatial in size but occupied by three beds, and a stove replaced the
old hearth. The floor was of bare brick. Sole touch of colour, a canary
sang in a cage, as cheerfully as to a Magnificent One. The crone whose
family inhabited this room conducted me at my request to the chamber
with the ceilings by Ercole Grandi. She opened the door, and—like
_Maria_ of Sicily—entered crying, “_È permesso?_” with retrospective
ceremoniousness, and I followed her into a vast lofty room, dingy below,
but glorious above, though more to faith than to sight, for the
firmament of fresco was difficult to see clearly in the gloom. The floor
was of stone, and held two beds, a chair or two, a cradle, a stout
dwarfish old woman and a sprawl of children with unkempt heads. In the
adjoining room sat a sickly and silent woman working a sewing machine
under the hovering Sybils and Prophets, dim and faded as herself.

For those who covet a Renaissance chamber, even after this exposure of
the auctioneer, let me say that the rent of this last room was
thirty-two scudi a year, Sybils and Prophets thrown in.

The entire Palace Beltrami-Calcagnini is, I imagine, to be acquired for
a song. When I first read in Ruskin’s “A Joy for Ever,” his exhortation
to Manchester manufacturers to purchase palaces in Verona so as to
safeguard stray Titians and Veroneses, I felt that the Anglo-Saxon
aspiration to play Atlas had reached its culminating grotesquerie. But
now that I have seen the state of the Ercole Grandi frescoes, I feel
that the Anglo-Saxon might do worse than step in, and I cannot
understand why Italy, so rigid against the exportation of her treasures,
is so callous to their extinction.

And this is the Palace built by the great Moro, who “boasted that the
Pope Alexander was his chaplain, the Emperor Maximilian his condottiere,
Venice his chamberlain, and the King of France his courier”; for whose
wedding procession, which was preceded by a hundred trumpeters, Milan
draped itself in satins and brocades; who patronised the immortals of
Art; and who wore to death in an underground dungeon in France.

An older than Virgil hath spoken the final word: _Vanitas vanitatum,
omnia vanitas_.



      OF DEAD SUBLIMITIES, SERENE MAGNIFICENCES, AND GAGGED POETS


There are few livelier expressions of vitality than tombs, especially
tombs designed or commissioned by their occupants. These be projections
of personality beyond the grave, extensions of egotism beyond the body.
The Magnificent Ones have invariably the mausolean habit. It is another
of their humilities. The majesty of death, they know, is not enough to
cover their nakedness. Moses, the true Superman, had his sepulchre
hidden that none might worship at it. The false Superman ostentates his
sepulchre in the hope that some one may worship at it. His Magnificence
is only Serene in his tomb: his life passes in uneasy tiptoeings after
greatness. Sometimes his mortuary tumefactions are softened by his
spouse being made co-tenant of his tomb, as in the Taj Mahal of Agra, or
in that beautiful monument ordered by Lodovico of Milan for himself and
Beatrice d’Este. And sometimes when “the Bishop orders his tomb” it may
be with an extenuating design to beautify his church—“ad ornatum
ecclesiae” as “Leo Episcopus” says of the monument he designed for
himself in Pistoja Cathedral. Unfortunately Bishop Leo’s worthy object
is scarcely attained by the two fat angels leaning sleepily against his
sarcophagus, or by the skull and the shell-work over it, though in
comparison with Verrocchio’s adjacent monument of Cardinal
Forteguerra—or rather the bust and the black sarcophagus superimposed
upon the original marble—the Bishop’s tomb is a thing of beauty.

But it is only when the corpse has not commanded the monument that I am
able to endure its magnificence. The Cardinal of Portugal in San
Miniato, the poisoned Pope Benedict in Perugia, St. Dominic in Bologna,
St. Agatha in Venice, and even the mysterious Lazaro Papi, “Colonel for
the English in Brazil,” the “esteemed writer of verses and history,”
whose friends raised him so elaborate a memorial in the cathedral of
Lucca in 1835, all lie as guiltless of their monumental follies as
Mausolus himself, who, it will be remembered, was the victim of his
designing widow. Nor could the _Ossa Dantis_ well escape that domed
mausoleum at Ravenna, though they lay low for a century and a half.

Still further removed from responsibility for his own posthumous pomp is
St. Augustine, who with all his inspiration could not foresee the
adventures of his corpse; how from Hippo it should come to rest at
Pavia, by way of Sardinia, and there, a thousand years after his death,
have that marvellous Arca erected over it by the Eremitani. Nor could
St. Donato, when he slew the water-dragon of Arezzo by spitting into its
mouth, foresee the great shrine embodying this and other miracles of his
which the millennial piety of the town would rear over his desiccated
dust.

But the Medici, the magnificent Medici! Not their chapel in Santa Croce,
full though it be of the pomp of marble and majolica; not their San
Marco monastery with their doctor-saints—St. Cosmo and St. Damian—not
their Medici Palace, despite that joyous Benozzo fresco with its gay
glamour of landscape and processions; not the Pitti with its
incalculable treasures; not the Villa Medici, nor even the Venus
herself, so reeks with the pride of life as all that appertains to their
tombs. When I gaze upon the monuments of these serene Magnificences in
the Old Sacristy of Florence, with the multiple allusions to the family
and its saints—in marble and terra-cotta, in stucco and bronze, in
fresco and frieze, in high-relief and low-relief—I feel a mere
grave-worm. And when I crawl into the Capella dei Principi where stand
the granite sarcophagi of the Grand Dukes, there glances at me from
every square inch of the polished walls and the pompous crests and rich
mosaics a glacial radiation of the pride of life—nay, the _hubris_ of
life. That hushed spaciousness is yet like an elaborate funeral mass
perpetually performed by an orchestra opulently over-paid.

I wonder how in their life-time men dared to apply to these Magnificent
Ones the common Italian words for the body and its operations and why
there was not evolved for them—as for the bonzes of the Cambodgians—a
specific vocabulary to differentiate their eating and drinking from the
munching and lapping of such as I. And yet in the New Sacristy I find
consolation. For, inasmuch as the genius of Michelangelo was harnessed
to the funeral car of his patrons, I perceive that here at last they are
truly buried. They are buried beneath the majestic sculptures of Day and
Night, Evening and Dawn, and ’tis Michelangelo that lives here, not
they. Peace to their gilded dust.

Far more reposeful, at least for the spectator, is Michelangelo’s own
burial place in Santa Croce, which is the most satisfactory church the
Franciscans have produced, and in its empty spaciousness an uplifting
change from the stuffy, muggy atmosphere, the tawdry profusion of
overladen chapels, which make up one’s general sense of an Italian
church. It is not free from poor pictures and monuments, and only some
of the coloured glass is good, but the defects are lost in the noble
simplicity of the whole under its high wooden roof. Michelangelo’s
monument is unfortunately impaired by one of the few errors of
overcrowding, for the frescoes above it make it look inferior to the
Dante cenotaph, though it is really rather superior. Curiously enough
the line anent the “great poet”

        “Ingenio cujus non satis orbis erat,”

does not come from Dante’s monument, but from that of a certain Karolus,
presumably Carlo Marsuppini!

I have spoken of the museum as the mausoleum of reality. But mausolea
too, turn into museums; in losing their dead they, too, die and become a
mere spectacle. Such is the melancholy fate of the Mausoleum of
Theodoric the Great outside Ravenna, robbed of its imperial heretical
bones by avenging Christian orthodoxy. Infinitely dreary this dead tomb
when I saw it in the centre of its desolate plain, to which I had
trudged through sodden marshland that would have been malarious in
summer; snowbound it lay, its arched substructure flooded, its upper
chamber only just accessible by a snow-crusted marble staircase: a bare
rotundity, a bleak emptiness, robbed even of its coffin, uncheered even
by its corpse. O magnificent Ostrogoth, conqueror of Italy, O most
Christian Emperor, when you turned from the splendour of your court at
Ravenna to build your last home, you with your imperial tolerance could
hardly foresee that because you held Christ an originated being, as
Arius had gone about singing, a Christian posterity would scatter you to
the four winds. And that rival gigantic tomb in the Appian Way at Rome,
does Cæcilia Metella still inhabit it, I wonder? I mourn to see such
spacious tombs stand empty when there are so many living Magnificences
whom they would fit to a span. Very proper was it to bury Beatrice, the
mother of Matilda, in the sarcophagus of a Pagan hero. Mausolea no more
than palaces should remain untenanted. Let them be turned into orts and
castles, an you will, like Hadrian’s Tomb into Sant’ Angelo, or into
circuses, like the Mausoleum of Augustus—sweet are the uses of
Magnificence—but to keep them standing idle when there must be so many
Magnificences in quest of a family sepulchre is a crime against America.
The tomb of Theodoric is, I fear, too secluded for American taste, but
the Exarch Isaac’s in such cheerful contiguity with town and church may
arride the millionaire more. For a consideration the Exarch’s own
sarcophagus might be had from the Museum, and the Exarch scrapped. Or
there is Galla Placidia’s Mausoleum, with its Byzantine mosaics thrown
in. Come! Who bids for these rare curios, one of the few links between
Antiquity and the Renaissance, with their grotesque mediæval sincerity.
Remark, _Signori_, that prefiguration of the Index Expurgatorius, that
bearded Christ or S. Lorenzo (you pay your money and you take the
choice) who is casting into a crate of serpentine flames one of those
Pagan volumes for which the Cinquecento will go hunting madly. No, that
cabinet does not contain cigar-boxes—what did the saints know of
cigars?—nor are Marcus, Lucas, Matteus, Joannes, the names of brands.
Those apparent cigar-boxes, as you might have seen from the strings, are
holy manuscripts triumphant over the Pagan volume. This naïve
draughtsmanship, _Signora_, is just what makes them so precious and your
petty bids so amazing. What is that you say, _Signorina_? Galla Placidia
is still in possession? And two Roman Emperors with her? Nay, nay, a
nine hundred and ninety-nine years’ lease is all that a reasonable ghost
may desire; after that, every tomb must be esteemed a cenotaph; unless
indeed the heirs will pay the unearned increment. Choose your
sarcophagus, _Signori_, an Emperor’s sarcophagus is not in the market
every day.

But I do not think that even the vulgarest millionaire would desire his
ashes to dispossess the Doges of Venice, or at least not Giovanni
Pesaro. The most romantic auctioneer might despair of disposing of that
portal wall of the Frari which is sacred to the Gargantuan grotesquerie
of his colossal memorial. Does the whole world hold a more baroque
monument? Going, going—and how I wish I could say gone!—that portal
upheld by bowed negro giants on gargoyled pedestals, with patches of
black flesh gleaming through holes in their trousers. Item, one black
skeleton surmounted by other unique curios, including two giraffes.
Item, His Sublimity, the Doge himself, sitting up on his sarcophagus,
holding up his hands as if in expostulation, gentlemen, against your
inadequate bids. Item, a wealth of heroic figures, and an array of
virtues and vices, all life-size. (Could be sold separately as
absolutely incongruous with the negro portions of the monument.) Also,
in the same lot if desired, two hovering angelets, holding a wreath,
suitable for any Christian celebrity.

Alas, Barnum is no more and bidding languishes. And yet I do not see why
the lot should not be knocked down. Who was this Pesaro that he should
have the right to impose this horror on posterity? Why should
generations of worshippers at the Frari be obsessed by this nightmare?
There can be no sacredness in such demented mural testaments. And Time,
who preserved this, while he has destroyed so many precious things, who
shattered Leonardo’s horse and melted Michelangelo’s bronze Pope, is
hereby shown of taste most abominable. History must get a better
curator.

The black skeleton—I had not thought before that skeletons could be
negro—flourishes a scroll which ascribes to the Doge the wisdom of
Solomon and an implacable hostility against the foes of Christ, while a
tablet held by one of the giant negroes announces

        “Aureum inter optimos principes vides.”

_Aureum_ indeed! Doubtless only some faint sense that sheen and death
are discrepant held back the Doges from being buried in golden caskets.
The Doge lives again in this monument, boasts the Latin, and one can
only reflect that if the dogal taste reached this depravity by the
middle of the seventeenth century, _actum est de republicâ_ might have
been written long before Napoleon. Fortunately for the memory of the
Pesaro family it finds a nobler, if no less bombastic expression, in the
great Titian altar-piece, the Madonna di Casa Pesaro, in which the Queen
of Heaven bends from her throne to beam at its episcopal representative,
and St. Francis and St. Anthony grace by their presence the symbols of
its victory over the Turk, while St. Peter pauses in his pious lection.

But the dead Doges lie mostly in S. S. Giovanni e Paolo, where their
funeral service was performed. It is the very church for Their
Sublimities—floods of light, pillared splendour, imposing proportions.
Their tombs protrude from the walls, and their sculptured forms lie on
their backs, their heads on pillows, their feet comfortably on cushions.
Even when we are reminded of the finer things for which the Republic
stood, there is an echo of material opulence.

        “Steno, olim Dux Venetiorum, amator
         Justitiæ, Pacis, et Ubertatis anima.”

_Ubertatis_ anima! The soul of prodigal splendour! Even spiritual
metaphor must harp on images of Magnificence.

But not every dead Doge consents to be couchant. Horatio Baleono, who
died in 1617, “hostes post innumeros stratos,” has for monument a
cavalier (of course, gilded) riding rough-shod over writhing forms and a
broken-down cannon, and Pietro Mocenigo, whose mausoleum vaunts itself
“ex hostium manubiis,” stands defiant on the summit of his sarcophagus,
which is upborne by a trinity of figures.

What a family this Casa Mocenigo, with its record of Doges! Remove their
memorials and mausolea from this church and you would half empty it of
monuments. Tintoretto, no less than Titian, was dragged at their
triumphal car. There is an _Adoration of the Saviour_ at Vicenza, which
might just as well be the adoration of the Doge, Alvise Mocenigo, who is
in the centre of the picture. For though he is kneeling, he has all the
air of sitting, and all the other figures—the worshippers, the angel
flying towards him, and the Christ flying down to him—converge towards
him like a stage-group towards the limelit hero. Compare all this
posthumous self-assertion with the oblivion fallen on Marino Faliero,
the decapitated Doge of Byron’s drama, whose dubious sarcophagus was
shown to the poet in the outside wall of this church.

Nor could Padua, Venice’s neighbour, fall behind her in mortuary
magnificence.

        “Nequidque patavino splendore deesset”

says a monument to Alessandro Contarini in the nave of the cathedral, a
monument supported by six slaves and embracing a bas-relief of the
fleet. Another in the worst dogal style exhibits Caterino Cornaro, a
hero of the Cretan War (who died in 1674) in a full-bottomed wig and
baggy knee-breeches, holding a scroll as if about to smack the universe
with it. Sad is it to see so many “eternal monuments” of faded fames.

The Scaliger street-tombs in Verona are at least artistically laudable,
however ironically their Christian ostensiveness compares with the
record of the Family of the Ladder, whose rungs were murdered relatives.
But even had Can Signorio lived the life of a saint, it would have
needed a considerable conquest of his Christian humility before he could
have commissioned that portentous tomb of his from Bonino da
Campiglione. Knowing the Magnificent One, Bonino gave him solidity and
superfluity, a plethora of niched and statued minarets of saints and
virtues armed warriors, and bewildering pinnacles clothed with figures,
all resting on six red marble columns springing from a base which
supports the tomb, and is itself upborne by angels at each corner and
adorned with pious bas-reliefs. And while the dead man lies in stone
above his tomb, guarded by angels at head and foot, he also bestrides
his horse and sports his spear on the uttermost pinnacle of his
ladder-crested memorial, as though making the best of both worlds; which
was indeed the general habit of the Magnificent, who desired likewise
the beatitudes of the Meek, and often shed tears of sincere repentance
when they could sin no more. Mastino della Scala’s tomb is more gilded
and elegant than Can Signorio’s, though not less assertive and
bi-worldly. And as for the tomb of Can Grande—“Dog the Great,” as Byron
translated him in “The Age of Bronze,”—which is perched over the church
door and soars up into a turret, it was—on the day I first saw
it—provided with a long and dirty ladder for repairing purposes. So
that I say Father Time—if he be a poor curator—is at least a fellow of
infinite jest. One of his jests is to hound the Magnificent dead from
pillar to post, from church to monastery, from crypt to chapel. In the
grave there is rest? Fiddle-faddle! No body is safe from these chances
of mortality. Stone walls do not a coffin make, nor iron bars a tomb.
Call no body happy until it is burnt. After five centuries of rest
Matilda of Tuscany was carried off from Mantua in a sort of mortuary
elopement by her great admirer, Pope Urban VIII, and hidden away in the
castle of S. Angelo, till she could be inhumed in St. Peter’s, and it
was only the pride of Spoleto that saved Lippo Lippi from being sold to
Florence. Napoleon, in suppressing churches, disestablished many an
ancient corpse, and the pious families of Verona hastened to transport
their sarcophagi to the church of S. Zeno on the outskirts. Hither must
ride the dead Cavalli with their equine scutcheons, flying before the
World-Conqueror on his white horse.

Dismemberment, too, befalls tombs at the hands of the merry jester. The
friars of S. Maria delle Grazie who owed so much to the great Sforza
Duke, broke up his monument and offered his effigy and his wife’s for
sale. The more loyal Carthusians snapped up Cristoforo Solari’s
beautiful sculptures for the beggarly price of thirty-eight ducats, and
Lodovico and Beatrice in marble must leave their dust and make a last
journey to Pavia. A last journey? _Chi sa?_

“Iterum et iterum translatis,” sighs the monument over the bones of Cino
in Pistoja Cathedral, and who knows that the “pax tandem ossibus” is
more than a sanguine aspiration? Cino was not the only Italian poet to
be thus “translated,” though neither Petrarch nor Ariosto was
“translated” so often. Petrarch indeed was rather pirated than
“translated,” for his right arm was stolen from his sepulchre at Arquà
for the Florentines, and the rest of him is now supposed to be in
Madrid—a town which also holds that monarch of sanctity, Francesco di
Borja, likewise minus an arm, for the Gesù of Rome kept back that
precious morsel of the Duke who had entered the kingdom of heaven by the
rare gate of abdication.

But stranger than these mutations of mortality is the fact that Italy
holds the ashes of our Shelley and Keats, as it held so much of the life
of Byron and Browning. As if Rome had not riches and memories to
super-satiety! A Protestant cemetery seems indeed out of key as much
with these poets as with Rome, but that overshadowing Pyramid of Cestius
restores the exotic touch, and violets and daisies blot out all but the
religion of beauty, so that Shelley could write: “It might make me in
love with death to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”
It is pleasant to think that only a year later Shelley, however exiguous
his ashes, found in that sweet place the rest and re-union for which his
_cor cordium_ yearned.

        “’Tis Adonais calls! oh hasten thither,
         No more let life divide what Death can join together.”

With what a wonderful coast Shelley has mingled his memory—fig-trees,
olives, palms, cactus, hawthorn, pines bent seaward, all running down
the steep cliff. What enchanting harmonies they make with the glimpses
of sea deep below, the white villages and campaniles, seen through their
magic tangle. As you pass through the sunny dusty village roads, the
girls seem to ripen out of the earth like grapes, both white and black,
for there are golden-haired blondes as well as sun-kissed brunettes.
They walk bare-footed, with water-jars poised on their heads, sometimes
balancing great russet bundles of hay. And the old peasant women with
Dantesque features sit spinning or lace-making at the doors of their
cottages, as they have sat these three thousand years, without growing a
wrinkle the more, if indeed there was ever room for another wrinkle on
their dear corrugated faces. What earth lore as of aged oaks they must
have sucked in during all these centuries!

It is here that one understands the Paganism of d’Annunzio, whose soul
lies suffused in these sparkling infinities of sun and sea and sky,
whose marmoreal language is woven from the rhythmic movement and balance
of these sculptural bodies.

Viareggio, which holds Shelley’s monument, is a place of strange twisted
plane-trees. The Piazza Shelley is a simple quiet square of low houses
fronting a leafy garden and the sea. It leads out, curiously enough,
from the Via Machiavelli. There is a bronze bust, which admirers cover
with laurel, and an inscription which represents him as meditating here
a final page to “Prometheus Unbound.” (Baedeker, comically
mis-translating “una pagina postrema,” represents him as meditating “a
posthumous page”!)

Not here, however, but in La Pineta is the place to muse upon Shelley.
It is a thick, sandy pinewood with an avenue of planes. The pines are
staggering about in all directions, drunk with wind and sun. Very silent
was it as I sat here on a spring evening, watching the rosy clouds over
the low hills and the mottled sunset over the sea. The birds ventured
scarcely a twitter; they knew they could not vie with Shelley’s skylark.

Shelley’s epitaph in the Roman cemetery is like a soft music at the end
of a Shakespeare tragedy.

        “Nothing of me that doth fade
         But doth suffer a sea-change
         Into something rich and strange.”

What a curious and pacifying fusion of poetry and wit! It reconciles us
to the passing back of this cosmic spirit into the elements by way of
water. But what a jarring perpetuation of the world’s noises on the
tombstone of Keats!

“This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English poet, who on
his death-bed, in the bitterness of his heart at the malicious powers of
his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tombstone: ‘Here
lies one whose name was written in water.’”

Water again! But water as chaos and devourer. How ill all this
turbulence accords with the marble serenity of his fame, a fame that so
far as pure poetry is concerned stands side by side with Shakespeare’s!
We are a good way now from the twenty-fourth of February, eighteen
hundred and twenty-one. A few years more and Keats will have been silent
a hundred years, and we know that his nightingale will sing for ever.
What profits it, then, to prolong this mortuary bitterness, to hang this
dirty British linen on the Roman grave? The museum is the place for this
tombstone—I could whisk it thither like the Doge Pesaro’s wall. Will it
save the next great poet from the malice of his enemies? Will they speak
a dagger less? Not a bodkin! The next great poet, being great and a
poet, will appeal in novel and unforeseeable ways, and be as little read
and as harshly reviewed as the marvellous boy of Hampstead whose death
at twenty-five is the greatest loss English literature has ever
sustained. Were it not fittest, therefore, to celebrate the centenary of
this death by changing his epitaph for a line of “Adonais”?—

        “He lives, he wakes; ’tis Death is dead, not he.”

The tragedy of Keats is sufficiently commemorated in Shelley’s preface
and in the pages of literary history and in the doggerel of Byron.

        “‘Who killed John Keats?’
         ‘I,’ says the _Quarterly_,
         So savage and Tartarly
         ’Twas one of my feats.”

And Byron lamented and marvelled

        “That the soul, that very fiery particle,
         Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.”

I do not share this discontent. To be snuffed out by an article is
precisely the only dignified ending for a soul. This dualism of body and
spirit which has been foisted upon us has degradations enough even in
health. No union was ever worse assorted than this marriage of
inconvenience by which a body with boorish tastes and disgusting habits
is chained to an intelligent and fastidious soul. No wonder their
relations are strained. Such cohabitation is scarcely legitimate. Were
they only to keep their places, a reasonable _modus vivendi_ might be
patched up. The things of the spirit could exercise causation in the
sphere of the spirit, and the things of the body would be restricted to
their corporeal circle. But alas! the partners, like most married
couples, interfere with each other and intrude on each other’s domain.
Body and soul transfuse and percolate each other. Too much
philosophising makes the liver sluggish, and a toothache tampers with
philosophy. Despair slackens the blood and wine runs to eloquence. Body
or soul cannot even die of its own infirmity; the twain must arrange a
_modus moriendi_, each consenting to collapse of the other’s disease.
Thus a body in going order may be stilled by a stroke of bad news, and a
spiritual essence may pass away through a pox.

Think of the most powerful of the Popes, the head of Christendom, the
excommunicator of the Kings of France and Spain, having to succumb to a
fever; think of the great French writer, in whose brain the whole modern
world mirrored itself, having to die of a gas from which even his dog
recovered; think of the giant German philosopher, who had announced the
starry infinitude of the moral law, degenerating into the imbecile who
must tie and untie his necktie many times a minute. Surely it were
worthier of man’s estate had Innocent III perished of an argument in
favour of lay investiture, had Zola been snuffed out by an
anti-Dreyfusard pamphlet or a romantic poem, had Kant succumbed to the
scornful epigram of Herder, or even to the barkings of the priests’ dogs
who had been given his name. And far worthier were it of a poet to die
of a review than of a jaundice, of a criticism than a consumption.
Infinitely more dignified was the death of Keats under the _Quarterly_
than the death of Byron himself under a fever, which some trace to a
microbe, itself possibly injected by a mosquito. That were an
unpardonable oversight of Dame Nature, who in her democratic enthusiasm
forgets that mosquitos are not men’s equals, and that these admirable
insects should be blooded more economically. Assuredly the author of
“The Vision of Judgment” would have preferred to die of a stanza or a
sting-tailed epigram.

Dame Nature had the last word; but was Byron, foreseeing her crushing
repartee, so absolutely unjustified in his criticisms and questionings
of a Power that held him as lightly as the parasite on the hind leg of
any of the fifty thousand species of beetles? For if Fate treads with
equal foot on a Byron and a beetle, the bard may be forgiven if he takes
it less christianly than the coleopteron.

Byron is “cheap” to-day in England, and while Greece celebrates the
centenary of his arrival and Crete calls on his name, while Italy is
full of his glory, his hotels and his piazzas, while Genoa is proud that
he lived in _Il Paradiso_ and the Armenian Monastery at Venice still
cherishes the memory of his sojourn there to learn Armenian, and every
spot he trod is similarly sacred, the Puritan critic reminds us that

                          “The gods approve
        The depth and not the tumult of the soul.”

Yes, we know, but when a poet is disapproving of the gods their
standards matter less. And we are men, not gods, that their standards
should be ours. _Humani sumus_, and nothing of Byron’s passion and pain
can be alien from us. This tumult of the soul, who has escaped it? Not
Wordsworth, assuredly, who wrote those lines. Only the fool hath _not_
said in his heart, “There is no God.” Even Cardinal Manning said it on
his death-bed. Not that death-bed conversions are worth anything.
Matthew Arnold was apt to give us Wordsworth as the reposeful contrast
to the bold, bad Byron. But the calmness of Wordsworth is only in his
style, and if his questionings are cast in bronze, they were often
forged in the same furnace as Byron’s, and fused through and through
with the pain

        “Of all this unintelligible world.”

Poets, even the austere, have to learn in suffering what they teach in
song. Only the suffering is always so much clearer than what it teaches
them. And then, as Heine says, comes Death, and with a clod of earth
gags the mouth that sings and cries and questions.

        “Aber ist Das eine Antwort?”



                         VARIATIONS ON A THEME


Among these multitudinous _Madonnas_, and countless _Crucifixions_, and
_Entombments_ innumerable, who shall dare award the palm for nobility of
conception? But there is a minor theme of Renaissance Art as to which I
do not hesitate. It is the _Pietà_ theme, but with angels replacing or
supplementing the Madonna who cherishes the dead Christ, and it is
significant that the finest treatment of it I have seen comes from the
greatest craftsman who treated it—to wit, Giovanni Bellini. His _Cristo
Sorretto da Angioli_ you will find painted on wood—a _tavola_—in the
Palazzo Communale of Rimini. The Christ lies limp but tranquil, in the
peace, not the rigidity, of death, and four little angels stand by, one
of them half hidden by the dead figure. The exquisite appeal of this
picture, the uniqueness of the conception, lies in the sweet sorrow of
the little angels—a sorrow as of a dog or a child that cannot fathom
the greatness of the tragedy, only knows dumbly that here is matter for
sadness. The little angels regard the wounds with grave infantile
concern. Sacred tragedy is here fused with idyllic poetry in a manner to
which I know no parallel in any other painter. The sweet perfection of
Giovanni Bellini, too suave for the grim central theme of Christianity,
here finds triumphant and enchanting justification.

It is perhaps worth while tracing how every other painter’s handling of
the theme that I have chanced on fails to reach this lyric pathos.

Bellini himself did not perhaps quite reach it again, though he reaches
very noble heights in two pictures (one now in London and the other in
Berlin), in which the reduction in the number of angels to two makes
even for enhancement of the restful simplicity, while in the Berlin
picture there is a touching intimacy of uncomprehending consolation in
the pressing of the little angelic cheeks against the dead face. But the
fact that in both pictures one angel seems to understand more or to be
more exercised than the other contributes a disturbing complicacy. The
serene unity is, indeed, preserved by Bellini in his _Pietà_ in the
Museo Correr of Venice. But here the three young angels supporting the
body are merely at peace—there is nothing of that sweet wistfulness.

For a contrary reason the woodland flavour is equally absent from its
neighbour, a picture by an unknown painter of the Paduan school. Here
the peace is exchanged, not for poetry but tragedy. The Christ is erect
in his tomb, and the two haloed baby angels who uphold his arms are the
one weeping, the other horror-struck. The horror is accentuated and the
poetry still further lessened in an anonymous painting in a chapel of S.
Anastasia in Verona, where boy angels are positively roaring with grief.
Nor is the poetry augmented in that other anonymous painting in the
Palazzo Ducale of Venice, where one angel kisses the dead hand and the
other the blood-stained linen at the foot. In Girolamo da Treviso’s
picture in the Brera one child angel examines the bloody palm and the
other lifts up the drooping left arm with its little frock. Great round
tears run down their faces, which are swollen and ugly with grief. Still
more tragic, even to grotesquerie, is an old fresco fragment in an
underground church in Brescia, where the little angels are catching the
sacred blood in cups—those cups invented by Perugino and borrowed even
by Raphael. Francesco Bissolo, in the Academy of Venice, preserves the
tranquillity of Bellini, but by making the angels older loses not only
the seductive _naïveté_ but the whole naturalness, for these angels are
old enough to know better, one feels. They have no right to such
callousness. Raphael’s father in his picture in the cathedral of Urbino
escapes this pitfall, for his adult angels bend solicitously over the
Christ and support his arms from above. But Lorenzo Lotto, though he
gives us innocent child-angels, tumbles into an analogous trap, for he
forgets that by adding a Madonna and a Magdalen in bitter tears he
transforms these untroubled little angels into little devils, who have
not even the curiosity to wonder what in heaven’s name their mortal
elders are weeping over. In Cariani’s so-called _Deposizione_ at Ravenna
one little angel does weep in imitation of the mortals, leaning his wet
cheek on the Christ’s dead hand—“tears such as angels weep”—but he
only repeats the human tragedy, and might as well be a little boy. Two
older angels howl and grimace in Marco Zoppo’s picture in the Palazzo
Almerici of Pesaro, while the haloed, long-ringleted head of the Christ
droops with slightly open mouth and a strange smile as provoking as Mona
Lisa’s. Francia in the National Gallery gives us a red-eyed Madonna with
one calm and one compassionate angel, and Zaganelli in the Brera vies
with Bellini in the vague, tender wonderment of the child angels who
lift up the arms, but the picture is second-rate and the angels are
little girls with bare arms and puffed sleeves. Nor is it a happy
innovation to show us the legs of the Christ sprawling across the tomb.

Marco Palmezzano, with inferior beauty, also trenches on Bellini’s
ground; but not only is the Christ sitting up, not quite dead, but one
of the two child angels is calling out as for aid, so that the restful
finality of Bellini is vanished. Still nearer to the Bellini idea
approaches a picture in the Academy of Venice attributed to Marco
Basaiti and an unknown Lombardian. But if this avoids tragedy, the turn
is too much in the direction of comedy. The child angels are made still
more infantine, so that there is neither horror nor even perturbation,
merely a shade of surprise at so passive a figure. One plays with the
Christ’s hair, the other with his feet—the Blake-like tenderness is not
absent, but the poetry of this utter unconsciousness is not so
penetrating as the wistful yearning of the Bellini angels before some
dim, unsounded ocean of tragedy. This precise note I did, indeed, once
catch in a corner of Domenichino’s _Madonna del Rosario_, where a baby
surveys the crown of thorns; but this is just a side-show in a joyous,
thickly populated picture, and the Christ is not dead, but a live
_bambino_, who showers down roses on the lower world of martyrdom and
sorrow.

He is almost too dead in the fading fresco of the little low-vaulted,
whitewashed, ancient church of S. Maria Infra Portas in Foligno. A great
gash mutilates his side, his head, horribly fallen back, lies on the
Madonna’s lap, his legs and arms droop. The mother’s long hair hangs
down from her halo, she clasps her hands in agony, and a child angel on
either side looks on commiseratingly. Strange to say, this conserves the
poetry, despite the horror, though the horror removes it out of
comparison with Bellini’s handling.

In Genoa I found three more variations on the theme, two in the
cathedral, the first with four angels, all gravely concerned, and the
second with quite a crowd of little boys and angels, nearly all weeping.
One of the little angels has taken off the crown of thorns—a good touch
in a bad picture. The third variant is by Luca Cambiaso, and in the
Palazzo Rosso, with a single agitated boy angel. A _Pietà_ in Pistoja
takes its main pathos from its lonely position on the staircase of the
fusty town hall: a last rose of summer, all its companions are faded and
gone, all save one pretty lady saint blooming in a vast ocean of
plaster. Even its own Madonna and Apostles are half obliterated; but the
boy angel remains in a curious posture: he has got his head betwixt the
legs of the Christ, and with his arms helps to sustain the drooping
figure. Still more original touches appear in Andrea Utili’s picture in
Faenza. Here the Christ has his arms crossed, and his halo, tilted back
over his crown of thorns, gleams weirdly in red and gold, and on his
tomb rest pincers and a hammer. The two youthful angels are deeply
moved; one holds a cross and the other three nails.

If any painter could vie in enchantment with Giovanni Bellini it is
Crivelli, and, indeed, there are fascinating things in his _Pietà_ in
the Brera, idyllic sweetness in the angels, original decorative touches
in the book and burning taper, and masterly imagination in the ghastly
lack of vitality with which each dead hand of the Christ droops on the
tender living hand of an angel. Had only the angels been a little
younger, this would have been as sweetly lyrical as Bellini. From
Michelangelo we have only a sketch of the subject, with his wingless
child angels, over whom stands the Mater Dolorosa with useless outspread
arms, that should have been helping the poor little things to support
their burden. In Guido Reni’s _Pietà_ at Bologna her hands droop in
folded resignation, while one angel weeps and one adores and pities. I
fear the presence of the Madonna and other mortals destroys the peculiar
celestial poetry, though of course the conjunction of mortals and angels
brings a poetry of its own.

Tura’s treatment of the theme in Vienna I have not seen. But Vivarini
breaks out in a new direction. His two angels fly from right and left
towards the tomb, under full canvas, so to speak. But it is a pattern
_et præterea nihil_. More poetic in its originality is a picture of the
Veronese school in the Brera, showing us two baby angels, half curious,
half apprehensive, unfolding the Christ’s winding-sheet. But it is a
dark, poorly painted picture. Another new invention is Garofalo’s in the
same gallery. He gives us a crowd of commonplace weeping figures in a
picturesque landscape, and his angel is a sweet little cherub aloft on a
pillar over the heads of the mourning mob. But the angel might be a mere
architectural decoration, for all his effect upon the picture.

Thus have we seen almost every possible variation tried—adult angels
and young angels and baby angels, calm angels and callous angels,
lachrymose angels and vociferous angels, helpless angels and hospital
angels, boy angels and girl angels, and only one artist has seen the
sole permutation which extracts the quintessential poetry of the
theme—the high celestial tragedy unadulterated by human grief, and
sweetened yet deepened by angels too young to understand and too old to
be unperturbed, too troubled for play and too tranquil for tears.

And it is to that incarnation of evil, Sigismondo Malatesta, that we owe
this masterpiece of lyric simplicity, for ’twas the Magnificent Monster
himself that commissioned it—His rolling and reverberating
Magnificence, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta di Pandolfo—whose
polyphonous, orotund name and the black and white elephants of whose
crest pervade the splendid temple which he remodelled at Rimini for the
glory of God. And lest the world should forget ’twas he to whom heaven
owed the delicious Pagan reliefs by the pillars, or the now-faded
ultramarine and starry gold of the chapels, each first pilaster bears in
Greek the due inscription:

                          TO THE IMMORTAL GOD
               SIGISMONDO PANDOLFO MALATESTA DI PANDOLFO

(Pray do not pause here—epigraphs, like telegrams, are not punctuated)

     PRESERVED FROM MANY OF THE GREATEST PERILS OF THE ITALIAN WAR
              ERECTED AND BEQUEATHED MAGNIFICENTLY LAVISH
           AS HE HAD VOWED IN THE VERY MIDST OF THE STRUGGLE
                    AN ILLUSTRIOUS AND HOLY MEMORIAL

No less reflexive was his apotheosis of the frail Isotta, of whom he
first made an honest woman and then a goddess. What wonder if his
critics carped at the “Disottæ,” the “divine Isotta,” he wrote over her
tomb, in lieu of the conventional “Dominæ Isottæ Bonæ Memoriæ”! But one
must do the bold, bad condottiere the justice to say that while two
angels bear this inscription over her in gold, his own tomb is
comparatively modest. It is Isotta whose tomb is supported by
shield-bearing elephants and culminates in flourishes as of elephants’
trunks, Isotta who stands over her altar in the guise of a gold-winged
angel. Malatesta’s patronage of Giovanni Bellini was not his only
contribution to the arts, for a cluster of poets found hospitality at
his court and burial at his temple—with a careful inscription that it
was Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta di Pandolfo who buried them—though
these seem to have plied the trade of Laureate, if I may judge from the
volume published at Paris, “L’Isotteo.” I cannot pretend to be read in
Porcellio de’ Pandone or Tommaso Seneca or Basinio of Parma. But
Bellini’s _tavola_ suffices to make me say with riddling Samson, “Out of
the strong cometh forth sweetness.”

For this is perhaps the teleological purpose of the Magnificent Ones, to
play the Mæcenas to some starveling artist or penurious poet. There is
in the santuario of the Malatesta temple a fresco of this Sigismondo. He
is seen in the flush of youth, gay in a brocaded mantle and red hose,
but somewhat disconcertingly on his knees before a crowned figure—his
patron saint according to some, the Emperor Sigismondo more probably.
Let us call it that sovereign fate to which even megaphonious
Magnificence must bow. Almost divine in his lifetime, within a few years
the Magnificent One’s character commences to decay, as if that too could
not resist the corruption of death. Happy the prince of whom some not
malodorous shred of reputation remains a century after his death. The
evil that men do lives after them, the good they have _not_ done is oft
interred with their bones.

Yes, there is a pathos in the Magnificent Ones. When I consider how
their autocosm ensnared them with a sense of their own perdurability,
lured them into engaging painters and architects and statuaries to
express their triumphant sense of timeless energising, and then ebbed
away from them, leaving them putrid carbonates, phosphates, and
silicates, while the work of Beauty lived on and lives, having used
these momentarily swollen creatures as its channel and tool, then I find
it in me to pity these frog-bulls of egotism, so cruelly bemocked and
deluded.

Before parting with the _Pietà_ theme I would remark that in the Italian
galleries the name _Pietà_ is often—with apparent inaccuracy—given to
pictures of the dead Christ alone in his tomb. One of the most curious
pictures of this sort I came upon in the gallery of Faenza, where Christ
stands in his tomb, yet still nailed on the Cross, from either end of
which depends a scourge. I found the same design in the centre of a
little stone shield over a building marked as the “Mons Pietatis” of
Faenza. And this set me speculating whether such an image as a symbol of
the Monte di Pietà was due to the mere suggestiveness of the word
_Pietà_, or whether there was a more mystical connection implied between
the Crucifixion and the loan-offices instituted in Italy by Bernardino
da Feltre to frustrate the usury of the Jews. It is the Monte di Pietà
of Treviso that shelters the _Entombment_ ascribed to Giorgione. It
seems a long way from Golgotha to the pawn-shop, yet we still talk of
pledges being redeemed.



                            HIGH ART AND LOW


                                              “Pictures
               Of this Italian master and that Dutchman.”
                   JAMES SHIRLEY: _The Lady of Pleasure_.

To come in the Uffizi upon a Dutch collection, to see the boors of Jan
Steen, the tavern peasants of Heemskerck, the pancake-seller of Gerard
Dou, the mushrooms and butterflies of Marcellis Ottone, is to have,
first a shock of discord and then a breath of fresh air and to grow
suddenly conscious of the artificial atmosphere of all this Renaissance
art. Where it does not reek of the mould of crypts or the incense of
cathedrals or the pot-pourri of the cloister, it is redolent of
marmoreal _salons_, it is the art of the Magnificent Ones. Moroni’s
_Tailor_ marks almost the social nadir of its lay subjects, and our
_sartor_ was no doubt a prosperous member of his guild. There are two
courtesans in Carpaccio but indistinguishable from countesses, in a rich
setting of pilasters and domestic pets. Guido Reni painted his
foster-mother, but it is the exception which proves the rule. And the
rule is that Demos shall appear in Art only as the accessory in a sacred
picture, like the old woman with the basket of eggs in Titian’s
_Presentation in the Temple_, or the servants in the many sacred suppers
and banquetings beloved of Veronese. That the Holy Family itself was of
lowly status is, of course, ignored except here or there by Tintoretto
or Signorelli or Giovanni Bellini, and the wonderful gowns and jewels
worn by the carpenter’s wife, according to Fra Angelico or Crivelli,
would be remarkable even on a Beatrice d’Este or a Marie de’ Medici. Who
would ever think that Raphael’s _Sposalizio of the Virgin_ was the
marriage of a Bethlehem artisan to a peasant girl? Even the carpenter’s
barefootedness—the one touch of naked truth—seems a mere piece of
hymeneal ritual, in face of that royal company of princesses and their
suites, that functioning High Priest. No; insistence on the humbleness
of the Holy Family hardly tallied with the Christianity of the
Renaissance, or even with the psychology of the poor believer, who loves
to dress up his gods as Magnificent Ones and for whom to adore is to
adorn. Aristocracy is the note of Italian painting—the Holy Family
takes formal precedence, but the Colonnas and the Medicis rank their
families no less select. The outflowering of Dutch art was like the
change from the airless Latin of the scholars to the blowy idioms with
which real European literature began. Italian art expressed dignity,
beauty, religion; Dutch art went back to life, to find all these in life
itself. It was the efflorescence of triumphant democracy, of the Dutch
Republic surgent from the waves of Spain and Catholicism as indomitably
as she had risen from the North Sea. Hence this sturdy satisfaction with
reality. Rembrandt painted with equal hand ribs of beef and ribs of men.
The Low Countries invented the fruit and flower piece and the fish and
game piece. That Low Art hails from the nether lands is not a mere
coincidence. Holland was less a country than a piece of the bed of the
sea to which men stuck instead of limpets. Cowper says, “God made the
country and man made the town,” but the Dutch proverb says, “God made
the sea and we made the shore.” ’Twas no braggart boast. The Dutchman
had made for himself a sort of anchored ship, and the damps and vapours
drove him oft from the deck to the warm cabin, where, asquat on plump
cushions with buxom _vrow_ and solid food and stout liquor, he met the
mists with an answering cloud from his placid pipe. And the art he
engendered reflected this love for cosy realities, and found a poetry in
the very peeling of potatoes. No voice of croaking save from the frogs
of his marshes. Let your Leopardis croak ’mid their sunny vineyards, let
your Obermanns sulk on their stable mountains Mynheer is grateful to be
here at all, to have outwitted the waters and dished the Dons. And so
never has earthiness found more joyous expression than in his pictures.
What gay content with the colours of clothes and the shafts of sunshine,
and the ripe forms of women, and the hues of meats and fishes! O the joy
of skating on the frozen canals! O the jolly revels in village taverns!
Hail the ecstasy of the Kermesse! “How good is man’s life, the mere
living.” “It is a pleasant thing to have beheld the sun.” These are the
notes of Dutch art, which is like a perpetual grace to God for the
beauty of common things. And if the painters are concerned so much with
the problems of light, if Rembrandt was the poet of light, was it not
because the Dutchman had always in his eye varying effects of light,
shifting reflections and scintillations in the ubiquitous canals,
kaleidoscopic struggles of sunlight with mist and fog? The Venetians
too, those Hollanders of Italy, are notable for their colour, in
contrast with the Florentines.

Even in the Dutch and Flemish images of doom I have thought to detect a
note of earth-laughter, almost an irresponsible gaiety. Pierre Breughel
paints the _Fall of the Angels_ as a descent to lower forms—the loyal
angels beat the rebels down, and they change as they fall into birds,
beasts, and fishes, into frogs and lizards, and even into vegetables.
There are bipedal carrots, and winged artichokes and bird-tailed
pomegranates. ’Tis as if the worthy painter was anxious to return to the
kitchen, to his genre subjects. Or may we sniff a belated Buddhism or a
premature Darwinism? Instead of a sacred picture we get a pantomimic
transformation scene: metamorphosis caught grotesquely in the act. This
_Fall of the Angels_ seems a favourite Flemish subject—one reads almost
an allegory of Art hurled down from heaven to earth.

The same sportive fantasy frolics it over the Flemish hell. De Vos gives
us a devil playing on the fluted nose of a metamorphosed sinner. In a
triptych of Jerome Bosch, the _Last Judgment_ is the judgment of a Merry
Andrew who turns the damned into bell-clappers, strings them across
harp-strings, or claps their mouth to the faucets of barrels till they
retch. So far goes the painter’s free fancy that he invents air-ships
and submarines for the lost souls to cower in, unwitting of the day when
these would hold no terrors for the _manes_ of erring aeronauts and
torpedoists.

Italian art even in the childish grotesqueries of its Inferno never
falls so low as this freakish farrago. One cannot help feeling that the
Italians believed in hell and the Netherlanders made fun of it.

One of these extravaganzas of Bosch has drifted to Venice, though this
_Temptation of St. Antony_ (of which there is a replica in Brussels) is
also attributed to Van Bles. The nude ladies coming to the saint with
gifts are most unprepossessing, and what temptation there is in the
whirl of carnival grotesques I cannot understand. No doubt some allegory
of sin lurks in these goblin faces, with their greedy mouths full of
strange creatures, and in this great head with black-tailed things
creeping in through eye and mouth, with frogs suspended from its
earrings and a little town growing out of its head. Such uncouth
ugliness has no parallel in Venice, unless it be a German Inferno with a
belled devil. From such puerilities one turns with relief to the coldest
and stateliest conventions of High Art.

And yet Dutch art and Italian are not wholly discrepant the link, as I
have said, comes through the minor figures of religious scenes, or even
occasionally through the major. A Dutch homeliness lurks shyly in the
background of Italian art, and at times appears boldly in the
foreground. From one point of view nothing could be more Dutch than the
innumerable Madonnas who suckle their _Bambini_. Nor do their haloes
destroy their homeliness. The peasant girl of Tintoretto’s
_Annunciation_ in S. Rocco wears a halo, but neither that nor the angel
bursting through the crumbling brick of the door can prevent this scene
from being a Dutch interior with a cane chair. Realism, smuggled in
under the cloak of religion, is none the less realism, and when Moretto
shows us the _Bambino_ about to be bathed by mother and nurse, and
paints us a basket of belly-bands, he has given us a genre picture none
the less because rapt saints and monks look on in defiance of
chronology, and, perched on a bank of cloud over a romantic landscape,
angels sing on high. Even as early as Giotto the nurse who presides at
_The Birth of the Virgin_ is washing the baby’s eyes. Very curious and
realistic is the pastoral study which Luca Cambiaso styled _Adoration of
the Shepherds_. And in Veronese, for all his magnificence, and in
Carpaccio, for all his fairy-tale atmosphere, and above all in Bassano,
for all his golden glow, we get well-established half-way houses between
High Art and Low. Under the pretext of _The Supper in Emmaus_ Bassano
anticipates all Dutch art. Here be cats, dogs, plucked geese, meat in
the pan, shining copper utensils scattered around, the pot over the glow
of the fire, the rows of plates in the kitchen behind. What loving study
of the colour of the wine in the glasses of the guests, and of their
robes and their furs! These things it is that, with the busy figures
behind the bar or stooping on the floor, fill up the picture, while the
Christ on a raised platform in the corner bulks less than the
serving-maid, and the centre of the stage is occupied by a casual eater,
his napkin across his knees. If this sixteenth-century picture is
Venetian in its glowing colour and its comparative indifference to form,
it is Dutch in its minuteness and homeliness.

The same love of pots and pans and animals glows in _The Departure of
Jacob_, with his horse and his ass and his sheep and his goats and his
basket of hens, and even beguiles Bassano into attempting a faint
peering camel. But not even the presence of God in a full white beard
can render this a sacred picture. It is, however, in his favourite theme
of _The Animals going into the Ark_ that Bassano brings the line between
the sacred and secular almost to vanishing point. Although Savonarola
preached on the Ark with such unction, as became the prophet of a new
deluge, the just Noah himself seems the least religious figure in the
Old Testament, perhaps because—after so much water—he took too much
wine. There is even a tradition recorded by Ibn Yachya that after the
Flood he emigrated to Italy and studied science. At any rate Bassano
always treated him as a mere travelling showman, packing his animals and
properties for the next stage. In a picture at Padua Noah’s sons and
daughters are doing up their luggage—one almost sees the labels—and
Noah, with his few thin white hairs, remonstrates agitatedly with
Shem—or it may be Ham or Japhet—who is apparently muddling the boxes.
A lion and lioness are treading the plank to the Ark, into which a Miss
Noah is just pushing the leisurely rump of a pig, which even the lions
at its tail fail to accelerate. Countless other pairs of every
description, including poultry, jostle one another amid a confusion of
pots, wash-tubs, sacks, and bundles, the birds alone finding comfortable
perching-room on the trees. Mrs. Noah wears her hair done up in a knot
with pearls just like the Venetian ladies, and a billy-cock hat lies on
one of the bundles. In his _Sheep-shearing_ (in the Pinacoteca Estense
of Modena) Bassano throws over all pious pretences and becomes
unblushingly Dutch—nay, double-Dutch, for he drags in agricultural
operations and cooking as well as sheep-shearing.

But it is in Turin that Bassano’s Batavianism runs riot. For his
market-place is a revel of fowls, onions, prezels, eggs, carcases,
sheep, rams, mules, dogs gnawing bones, market-women, chafferers, with a
delicious little boy whose shirt hangs out behind his vivid red
trousers. And his _Cupid at the Forge of Vulcan_ is an extravaganza in
copper pots and pans; and yet another market masterpiece is an inventory
of all he loved—butcher’s meat and rabbits and geese and doves, and
lungs and livers, and gherkins and melons, and cocks and hens, and
copper pans and pewter spoons, and a cow and a horse and an owl and
lambs, all jostling amid booths and stalls on a pleasant rustic
background as in a Tintoretto Paradise of luscious paintabilities.

Gaudenzio Ferrari has the same love of sheep, and these, with horses and
dogs, force their way into his pictures. The Bible is an encyclopædia of
themes, and even had any subject been wanting, apocrypha and sacred
legend would have provided it. For his pet lambs Ferrari goes to the
copious broidery on the Gospel, and his _Angels predicting the Birth of
Maria_ is really a study in sheep on the background of a domed and
towered Italian city. Giotto too had attempted sheep, though they are
more like pigs, and dogs, though they are elongated and skinny; his
camel with grotesque ears and a sun-bonnet one can forgive.

The lives of the saints supplied other opportunities for “Dutch”
pictures in the shape of miracles at home. Titian himself stooped to
record the miracle of putting on again the foot which the man who had
kicked his mother cut off in remorse. And in the same Scuola of the
Confraternity of St. Antony at Padua you may see the neglectful nurse
carrying safely to its parents at table the babe she had allowed to
boil.

And yet despite all these manifold opportunities, no Italian seems quite
to get the veracious atmosphere of the Dutch and to achieve the dignity
of Art without departing from the homeliness of Nature. No Italian has
brought Christ into the street so boldly as Erasmus Quellinus in that
picture in the Museo Vicenza in which a girl with a basket of live hens
on her head stops to watch the fat Dutch baby sleeping in its mother’s
arms. Despite the unreal presence of adoring saints in the crowd, there
is here a true immanence of divinity in everyday reality. The
sixteenth-century Italian Baroccio did indeed depict a Dutch
peasant-feast in his _Last Supper_ in the cathedral of Urbino, with its
bare-legged boy cook stooping for platters from a basket and its dog
drinking at a bronze dish, but its homeliness is marred by the hovering
of angels. Realism unadorned is essayed by Fogolino in his _Holy Family_
in Vicenza, with the carpenter’s shop, the rope of yarn, the hammer;
with a boy Christ in a black tunic saying grace before a meal of boiled
eggs, pomegranate, and grapes, washed down by a beaker of red wine; with
the Madonna bending solicitously over him, her wooden spoon poised over
her bowl; but, alas! the whole effect is of a cheap oleograph.

But then Fogolino was not a great painter, and it would have been
interesting to see a superb craftsman like Paul Veronese try his hand at
homely nature, unadorned by great space-harmonies and decorative
magnificences. As it was, he had the delight of a Dutchman in dogs and
cats, copper pots and jugs, and earthen pans and groaning tables and
glittering glasses, and these it is which fascinate him, far more than
the spiritual aspect of the _Supper in the House of the Pharisee_, so
that even when he wishes to paint the soul of the pink-gowned Venetian
Magdalen, he paints it through a little bowl which she overturns in her
emotion at kissing the feet of Christ. This is why meals are the prime
concern of Veronese, obsess him more than even his noble pillared
rhythms and arched perspectives. How eagerly he grasps at _The Marriage
of Cana_ and _The Disciples at Emmaus_ and _The Meal in the House of
Levi_, with which that hold-all of the Bible supplied him! Spaces and
staircases, arches and balconies and lordly buildings, all the palatial
poetry of Verona, with its fair women and rich-robed men—these are his
true adoration, and he paints, not Jesus, but the loaves and fishes.
Nay, it may almost be said that unless there be food in the picture
Veronese grows feeble, and must have pillars at least to prop him up.
See, for example, his _Susannah and the Elders_, with no trace of food
and only a wall to sustain him. When the Biblical cornucopia was wholly
depleted of its food-stuffs, he had to forage for manna, especially when
the need of decorating a monastic refectory was added to his own passion
for provender. One of his discoveries was _The Banquet of Gregory the
Great_, which is in the Monastery of the Madonna del Monte outside
Vicenza, and which is based on the legend that Gregory invited twelve
poor men to eat with him and Christ turned up as one of them. But
Christ, who is removing the cover from a fowl, is less striking than
Paul Veronese himself—who stands on the inevitable balcony with his own
little boy—and at best a mere item in the rhythm of pillars and
staircases and sky-effects. Nothing brings out the defect of Veronese as
a religious painter so clearly as a comparison of his _Disciples at
Emmaus_ with Titian’s. Titian too gives us fine shades of bread and
fruit and wine, and even a little “Dutch” dog under the table; Titian
too plays with pillars and a romantic background. But how his picture is
suffused with the spirit! These things know their place, are absorbed in
the luminous whole. A certain blurred softness in the modelling, a
certain subdued glow in the colouring—as of St. Mark’s—give mystery
and atmosphere. The food is, so to speak, transubstantiated.

Even Moretto’s _Supper at Emmaus_ (in Brescia) is superior to
Veronese’s, though his Christ in pilgrim’s cockle-hat and cloak has to
the modern eye the look of an officer with a cocked hat and a gold
epaulette.

But Veronese is not the only Italian who would have been happier as a
lay painter. I am convinced that some of the romanticists of the
Renaissance were born with the souls of Dutchmen, and these, as it
happens, the very men who have not worn well; a proof that they were out
of their element and gave up to romance and religion what was meant for
realism. Take Guido Reni, the very synonym of a fallen star, the
_Aurora_ in Rome, perhaps his one enduring success—though even here
Aurora’s skirt is of too crude a blue, and there is insufficient feeling
of mountain and sea below her. His portrait by Simone Cantarini da
Pesaro shows him with a short grey beard, a black doublet, a lawn
collar, and a rather pained look—there is nothing of the _Aurora_ in
this sedate and serious figure. And better than either his violent
Caravaggio martyrology or his later mythologic poesy I find his
portraits of his mother and his foster-mother; the mother in black with
a black turn-down collar, a muslin coif, and grey hair thinning at the
temples, and the foster-mother a peasant woman with bare and brawny
arms. The _St. Peter Reading_ in the Brera is also a strong study of an
old man’s head. Moroni had the good sense or the good fortune to shake
himself almost free of religious subjects and to produce a _Tailor_ who
is worth tons of _Madonnas_, but even he did not utterly escape the
church-market, and when one examines such a picture as his _Madonna and
Son, St. Catherine, St. Francis, and the Donor_ in the Brera, one
rejoices even more that an overwhelming percentage of his product is
pure portraiture. For the holy women in this picture are quite bad; St.
Francis is rather better, but the real Moroni appears only in the smug
donor who prays, his clasped hands showing his valuable ring. Here, of
course, the painter had simply to reproduce his sitter. As much can be
said of Garofalo and many another religious painter, whose “Donors”
often constitute the sole success of their pious compositions.

Lorenzo Lotto, too, should perhaps have confined himself to portraiture,
if of a fashionable _clientèle_. His pretty _Adoration of the Infant_
might be any mother adoring any infant. Near it—in the Palazzo
Martinengo in Brescia—Girolamo Romanino has a frightful fresco in the
grand manner, and quite a good portrait of an old gentleman; which
suggests that Romanino too should have avoided the classic. There is an
altar-piece of his in Padua which, although by no means devoid of
beauty, confirms this suggestion, for the Madonna and Child lack
character and originality, and are infinitely inferior to the Dutch
painting of the robes. The whole composition, indeed, glows and has
depth only in its lower and more terrestrial part, including in that
term the little girl angel who plays a tambourine below the throne.

Bronzino was another victim to his pious epoch, though he emancipated
himself almost as largely as Moroni. His _Madonna_ in the Brera is
remarkable for the secular modernity of the Virgin’s companions. On her
right is an ultra-realistic old woman; on her left Bernard Shaw looks
down with his sarcastic, sceptical gaze.

Even the Netherlanders who had had the fortune to be born free would,
after their wander-years in Italy, come back as Italians and paint in
the grand manner. Hence the religious and historic Van Dycks which
compare so poorly with the portraits, hence Rembrandt’s fat _vrow_ as
Madonna, hence the Lenten attempts of Rubens to bant.



 AN EXCURSION INTO THE GROTESQUE: WITH A GLANCE AT OLD MAPS AND MODERN
                               FALLACIES


Touching is that quaint theological tree in the cell of sainted
Antoninus in San Marco, upon whose red oval leaves grow the biographies
of the brethren. They lived, they prayed, they died—that is all. One
little leaf suffices to tell the tale. This brother conversed with the
greatest humility, and that excelled in silence. A third was found after
his death covered with a rough hair shirt (_aspro cilicio_). In the holy
shade of this goodly tree sits St. Dominic, separating—as though
symbolically—the monks on his right from the nuns on his left.

_Naïveté_ can no further go. And, indeed, if one were to regard the
_naïveté_ and forget the sweet simplicity, there is much in the mediæval
world that one would relegate to the merely absurd. The masterpieces of
Art have been sufficiently described. What a book remains to be written
upon its grotesques!

The word is said to derive from the arabesques found in grottoes or
excavated Roman tombs; those fantastic combinations of the vegetable and
animal worlds by which the art of Islam avoided the representation of
the real. But by the art of Christendom the grotesque was achieved with
no such conscientious search after the unreal. Nor have I in mind its
first fumblings, its crudities of the catacombs, its simplicities of the
missal and the music-book, its Byzantine paintings with their wooden
figures and gold embroidery. I am not even thinking of those early
Masters whose defects of draughtsmanship were balanced by a delicious
primitive poetry, which makes a Sienese Madonna preferable to a Raphael,
and the early mosaics of St. Mark’s more desirable than the
sixteenth-century work that has replaced them. The grotesque lies deeper
than unscientific drawing; it mingles even with the work of the most
scholarly Masters, and springs from the absence of a sense of history or
a sense of humour. That the Gospel incidents should be depicted in
Italian landscape and with Italian costumes was perhaps not unnatural,
since, as I have already pointed out, every nation remakes the Christ in
its own image—psychologically when not physically. Even the Old
Testament was de-Orientalised by Raphael and his fellow-illustrators.
Bonifacio Veronese, for example, put Italian hills and music-books into
_The Finding of Moses_, and his Egypt is less Eastern than the Venice he
lived in. But that the fancy-dress Bible should include also Doges and
Cardinals and Magnificent Families, and that a Tintoretto in everyday
clothes should look on at his own _Miracle of St. Mark_ or a Moretto
come to his own _Supper at Emmaus_, this it is that lifts the eyebrows
of a modern. One can permit Dominican friars to witness _The Incredulity
of St. Thomas_, or Franciscans to assist—as in Marco Basaiti’s
picture—at _The Agony in the Garden_. These holy brethren are at least
in the apostolic chain; and in the latter picture, which is becomingly
devotional, the scene is suggested as a mystic vision to justify the
presence of these anachronistic spectators. But how is it possible to
tolerate proud Venetian senators at _The Ascension of Christ_, or to
stomach the Medici at the building of the Tower of Babel? It is true
sacred subjects had become a mere background for lay portraits, but what
absence of perspective!

It would be an interesting excursion to trace the steps by which the
objective conception of a picture—true to its own time and place—was
reached, or the evolution by which singleness of subject was substituted
for exuberance of episodes and ideas, till at last Art could flower in a
lovely simplicity like that of Simone Martini’s _Annunciation_. You
shall see St. Barbara throned at the centre of her anecdotal biography,
or the Madonna della Misericordia sheltering virtues under her robe,
while her history circles around her. Even when the picture itself is
simple and single, the predella is often a congested commentary upon the
text, if, indeed, it has any relevant relation to the text at all. What
can be more charming than the little angels round the throne of the
Madonna in Benaglio Francesco’s picture in Verona—angels with golden
vases of red and white roses, angels playing spinets and harps and pipes
and lutes and little drums and strange stringed instruments that have
passed away! But what can be more grotesque than the predella of this
delightful picture, the Entombment and the saints with the insignia of
their martyrdom (hammer and tongs and fiery braziers), and the cock that
crew, and the kiss of Judas!

In a picture by Lorenzo Monaco at Florence the Virgin and St. John raise
Christ out of his tomb, and above are not only a cross and the
instruments of martyrdom, but a bust and floating hands, while spice
vessels figure below.

To a modern the mere treatment of God the Father suffices to create a
category of the grotesque, even though His head has usually the
venerable appearance of the aged Ruskin and He is kept a discreet
kit-kat or a half-length. But Fra Bartolommeo in Lucca paints Him at
full length with His toes on a little angel and a placard in His hand
bearing the letters alpha and omega. And Lorenzo Veneziano parts His
hair neatly in the middle.

Our catalogue of grotesques is swollen by the explanatory scrolls and
inscriptions of the early pictures; by the crude religious allegories,
in which devils gnash teeth when Virtue routs Temptation; by the
political cartoons at Siena—of Good and Bad Government (though these
are more primitive than comic); by the literal genealogic trees—like
that of Jesse in St. Mark’s, or on the stone door-posts of the
Baptistery of Parma; by the Tree of the Cross in Florence, which shoots
out branches with round leaves containing scenes from the life of the
central crucified figure, and supports a pyramid of saints and
celestials; by the devices of symbolism for representing abstract ideas
or identifying saints. All haloes are proleptic even from childhood, and
a martyr and his passion can never be parted. Those poor martyrs, what
they suffered at the hands of painters without a gleam of humour!

’Twas not till I had found out for myself that the overwhelming
preponderance in Art of the _Crucifixion_, the _Descent from the Cross_,
the _Entombment_, and the _Pietà_ were due in no small measure to the
opportunities they afforded of painting the nude figure, that I
discovered why St. Sebastian was the most popular of all the saints,
exploited in every other sacred picture, and—naked and unashamed—the
almost inseparable attendant of the Madonna when she sits in saintly
society. The superiority of his martyrdom at the hands of a troop of
archers to other paintable forms of death leaps to the eye, for the
arrows must be seen quivering in the target of his naked figure, though
I have seen this pictorially precious nudity marred by such a plethora
of arrows—as in the Opera del Duomo at Florence—that the saint is
become a porcupine. The grim humour of the situation lies in the fact
that St. Sebastian recovered from his arrows to be subsequently clubbed
to death, but this deutero-martyrdom is hushed up by the Italian
painters. To add to St. Sebastian’s sufferings at their hands, he has
been made a plague-saint and his invaluable nudity haled into
plague-pictures and plague-churches, as by Bartolommeo Montagna, who
turned his arrows into the metaphoric shafts of the Pest. Not that I can
blame the Italian painters. If I had ever been inclined to underrate the
artistic significance of the nude, I should have been converted by the
full-dressed angelets of Borgognone’s _Gesù Moriente_ in the Pavian
Certosa. These delicious little creatures were once without a fig-leaf,
but at the Father Superior’s protest they were clad in belted tunics and
skirts, thus becoming squat little figures whose wings burst comically
through their clothes. What might have been a masterpiece is thus a
grotesque.

But if St. Sebastian must go sempiternally branded with arrows, like a
British convict, it is St. Lawrence who has the clumsiest symbol to drag
about. He and his gridiron are as inseparable as Don Quixote and Sancho
Panza. Often it stands on end and seems the iron framework of a bed.
Like his halo, it is with him long before his martyrdom, as it
accompanies him to heaven. Only once in all Florence do I remember
seeing it in its proper place—under the grilling saint—and then he is
turning his other side to the flame in true culinary Christianity (“Jam
versa: assatus est”). The artist has spared us nothing except the towels
with which the angels wiped his face, and these may be seen at Rome in
S. Giovanni in Laterano. St. Stephen is also heavily burdened with the
stones that still keep falling on his head. In Bernardo Daddi’s frescoes
in S. Croce they stick to him like burrs. St. John, transformed to an
angel, contemplates his own (haloed) head on a platter, as if thinking
two heads are better than one. Lucy keeps her eyes in a dish. St.
Bartholomew holds his skin. St. Nicholas—the patron of commerce and the
pawnbroker—is known by his three golden balls. Even families had their
symbols, and the Colonnas, the complacent Colonnas, had themselves
painted as soaring heavenwards at the last trump, each with a small
column rising from his shoulder—literal pillars of Church and State.

These symbols, and many others less grotesque, disappear either with the
gradual obscuration of the legends or the development of purer artistic
ideas. There is another kind of symbolism, which may be called the
shorthand of primitive art, and which may be studied in the archaic
mosaics of St. Mark’s. Egypt dwindles to a gate (as though it and not
Turkey were the Porte). Alexandria is expressed by its Pharos. Trees
stand for the Mount of Olives. There is much of the rebus in these
primitive representations. The Byzantine symbolism of St. Mark’s reaches
its most curious climax in the representation of the four rivers that
watered the Biblical Garden of Eden by classical river gods. The palm
branch as the shorthand for martyrdom is a more congruous convention. In
the mosaics of S. Vitale in Ravenna, Jerusalem and Bethlehem are
expressed by towers, in Sant’ Appolinare Nuovo a few Roman buildings
stand for Classe. In a Venetian painting ascribed to Carpaccio,
Bethlehem is spelt by palm-trees and a queer beast tied to one of them,
probably meant for a camel.

A more pretentious form of symbolism lies in the allegory proper, but
even when the painting avoids the grotesque, the meaning is often
hopelessly obscure. Such popular pictures as Botticelli’s _Spring_,
Titian’s _Sacred and Profane Love_, and Paris Bordone’s _Lovers_ are
still unsolved puzzles, and perhaps only the more satisfactory for that.
But allegories that are enigmatic without being beautiful are merely
bores. Such are the two pictures of the school of Lazzaro Sebastiani in
Venice, in which a company of figures holding scrolls is perched in the
boughs of a tree, looking at a distance like a full orchestra. Both of
these pictures come from monasteries, and are therefore to be presumed
sacred. And in one of them Adam and Eve are unmistakable under the tree,
with mice and lizards gambolling around them, so that the tree must be
the Tree of Life or of Knowledge; but who is the youth who stands
beneath the other tree in a strange city of spires and towers and plays
on a golden ’cello, while a maiden offers him an apple? Such
intellectually faded pictures illustrate clearly the limitations of
painting as a medium for intellectual propositions. But the most lucid
of allegories or symbolisms has its own peculiar pitfalls. Luca Mombella
introduces into a _Coronation of the Virgin_ a figure of “Humilitas” who
is magnificently attired and wears pearls in her hair, while Montagna’s
_Nestor Victorious over the Vices_ (in the Louvre) proves that most of
the Vices are at least devoted mothers, for they burden their flight by
snatching up their satyr-like brood.

But these confused or unintelligible allegories are far preferable to
symbolisms which are perfectly decipherable yet perfectly repellent,
like Giovanni da Modena’s fresco in S. Petronio which shows us Christ on
his cross agonising between two female figures, one bestriding a
full-maned lion (the Catholic Church) and the other riding blindfold on
a goat (Heresy). The lion has four different feet—a pedal man (St.
Matthew), a pedal ox (St. Luke), an eagle’s claw (St. John), and a real
foot (St. Mark). The blood from the side of Christ flows into the
chalice held by the Church, and in the middle of the stream is formed
the wafer. The four ends of the cross turn into hands: the upper hand
opens with a key the gate of Paradise—strangely like a church; the
lower hand opens Hell with a winch; the right hand blesses the Catholic
Church, the left stabs Heresy. Garofalo has a vast but still poorer
fresco of this sort in Ferrara, brought from a refectory. Each arm of
the cross branches into two hands engaged in much the same occupations
as in the Bolognese fresco save that one hand crowns Wisdom. The foot of
the cross also turns into hands, the right holding a cross towards
Limbo, the function of the left fortunately faded. It is refreshing to
turn from such geometrical symbolisms to the meaningless flower-patterns
of F. dei Libri, in which Crucifixions, cherubs reading, satyrs blowing
brass instruments, and _putti_ playing citharas or puffing at bagpipes
are interwoven with wriggling snakes, contemporary poets and
ecclesiasts, and shaven monks performing service.

This, of course, is the conscious grotesque, like the borders which
Girolamo dei Libri put round a serious picture of the Magi—vignettes of
other scenes, hands of donors, floral patterns and scutcheons with
strange ramping beasts.

To the deliberate grotesque belong, of course, the stone beasts that
crouch before the old cathedrals, the griffin of Perugia, and the
heraldic beasts of Tura. I should have added Raphael’s dragons to the
same category were it not that though deliberately drawn and though
delightfully grotesque, they are mere representation of an object that
happens to be grotesque in itself, and this is no more the artistic
grotesque than the portrait of a beautiful woman is necessarily the
artistic beautiful. There is a deal of movement, spirit, and invention
in these great worms of Raphael, and every individual St. George, St.
Michael, or St. Margaret is handsomely provided with an original and
unique dragon, each with an elegant precision of fearsome form. But
Raphael drew with equal hand and the same loving seriousness a monster
or a Madonna.

Equally conscientious is the Medusa’s head once ascribed to Da Vinci,
with its carefully combed snaky locks and its frogs and bats and toads.
Carpaccio’s dragon has far more fun in him, for all his grisly litter of
skulls and skeletons.

And I like Vasari’s dragon in his _St. George_ in Arezzo, with its
spitting double tongue and its half-eaten man, and the gorgeous dragon
on a piece of majolica in Urbino, into whose mouth St. George is driving
his spear, and the fierce-clawed, winged dragon of the spirited
Tintoretto in the National Gallery, and above all the dragon of Piero di
Cosimo’s _Andromeda_ in Florence, with that delightful curling tail and
that broad back on which Perseus can stand securely while delivering his
stroke.

But the deliberate grotesque without fun—this, I confess, is a note in
Italian art which I find disquieting. For into this polished and
palatial world there intrudes at times a touch of something sinister,
cynical and mocking, as though the artist, constricted by pompous
conventions, sought relief by sticking out his tongue.
Leonardo—whatever Mona Lisa’s smile may mean—kept his grotesquerie for
his caricatures. But other of the Masters were less discriminating. This
something of enigmatic and perturbing—perhaps it is only the acute
Renaissance consciousness of the skeleton at the feast—I find most of
all in Crivelli—Venetian soldier, as he once signed himself—whose rich
lacquer work has had more attention than this diablerie of his. Nobody
else touches the grotesque so consciously, dares to give us such quaint,
ill-drawn angels as those in his _Madonna and Child_ in Verona, with
that bird-pecked _giardinetto_ of fruits over the Virgin’s head, and
Christ in a gold frock as in some Byzantine mosaic. The microscopic
Crucifixion is perhaps no more incongruous with the subject of this
picture than its landscapes seen through arches, its chivalry and pomp
of horses. But one cannot help feeling that Crivelli had a grim joy in
perching that vulture on the large gaunt tree. And in his Brera
_Madonna_, in which St. Peter holds two heavy real keys, gilded and
silvered, he gives the celestial doorkeeper a crafty ecclesiastical
look, while his St. Dominic looks sawny. Even his baby Christ is cruelly
squeezing a little bird. There is a leer in the whole picture. The
accident of juxtaposition has accentuated the wilfulness of Crivelli’s
grimace, for in the Brera there are two _Madonnas_, side by side, yet at
the extreme poles of his genius. In the _Madonna della Candeletta_ we
have beauty unalloyed. The tiny candle standing at the foot of the
Madonna’s throne strikes, indeed, a note of bizarrerie, but it is
beautiful bizarrerie, and the Madonna, marvellously robed and embowered
in fruit and leaves, who is offering a great pear to a charming Child,
is less the Mother of God than a crowned queen of faery with an infant
prince in a golden robe and a golden halo, and less a queen with a
prince than a wonderful decorative pattern, a study in gold and marble
and precious stones and brocaded gowns, broidered, rich-dyed, and
fantastic with arabesques. And beside this poem hangs the other
Crivelli, a gaunt crucifix with ugly, contorted figures of the Madonna
and St. John. And it is sardonic humour, not _naïveté_, that has turned
_his_ St. Sebastian (in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli) into a porcupine.

But even Giovanni Bellini, with his sense of restful perfection and
unity of theme, cannot resist putting in microscopic accessories that
only catch the eye from anear, as into his green-throned _Madonna and
Child_ in the Brera he introduces a horseman, two men talking by a tree,
a shepherd, a flock of sheep, and, strangest of all, a shadowy ape
crouching on a tomb which bears his signature: “Johannes Bellinus.” What
is the significance of this shadowy ape? What mockery of the theme, or
of humanity, or of himself, was here shadowed forth?

And that even more sinister ape in Tura’s _Virgin supporting the Dead
Christ_—what does he here? The mother, seated on the tomb, holds the
poor bleeding figure as though it were again her baby. They are alone,
they and the thieves and the cross; other men are moving away, bearing a
ladder. The picture is complete, a grim, solemn, soul-moving unity. Why
then did Tura, that master of the conscious grotesque, throw in that
grinning monkey on that strange fruit-tree? Was he, who lived to see the
Borgian Pope become the Vicar of Christ, suggesting sardonically what
quaint sequels of orgiastic splendour, what pride and lust of life, were
to spring from this tragic sacrifice?

A less perturbing monkey looks on with other creatures at _The Creation
of Man_ in a Venetian picture now in Ravenna. A red-girt, blue-mantled
Deity floats over a huge recumbent Adam, whose thigh he touches, while
the monkey, eating an apple, appears to follow with interest the next
phase in evolution, when fruit would be forbidden.

Apes appear again in Fogolino’s _Adoration of the Magi_ in Vicenza;
squatting below the castled rocky ways and mountain-bridges, over which
winds the great procession with its beautifully caparisoned horses.
These apes, like the ape on the elephant’s back in Raphael’s treatment
of the same theme, might be merely designed to suggest the East, were it
not for the disconcerting, mysterious, lobster-red, sprawling wings?
What further note of discord do we catch here?

But it is in the unconscious grotesque that Italian art is richest. I
have already shown some of the trap-doors that lead to it, but to
enumerate them all is impossible. There are so many ways in which humour
can be absent. Perhaps one might generalise as a source of the
unconscious grotesque the convention dating from the Byzantine period
which expresses souls as small swaddled dolls. See, for example, Paolo
da Venezia’s _Death of Mary_, where, by a seeming inversion of _rôles_,
Christ flies up to heaven with his mother-doll. Perhaps, too, all
pictures connected with stigmata or vernicles are foredoomed to farce.
There may be a noble way of expressing this material transference, but I
have never seen one. St. Veronica receiving on a handkerchief a head
with neatly parted hair is prosaic if not comic, while St. Francis
receiving the stigmata is simply ludicrous.

In a picture in the Museum of Vicenza the kneeling saint is apparently
flying a kite by red strings passing through holes in his hands and
feet. The seeming kite is really a small winged nude figure, feathered
at head and feet like a cock—the six-winged seraph of the _Legenda
Trium Sociorum_ that bears the crucified figure,—red strings passing
through corresponding holes in his head and feet. The treatment of the
same scene by Giotto (in the Louvre) gives this kite-like appearance to
Jesus himself.

Even more absurdly geometrical is Gentile da Fabriano’s handling of the
theme at Urbino, five strong red cords passing to the saint’s breast,
hands, and feet from an eight-winged figure on a cross, naked to its
waist. It is a relief to find these Euclidian lines absent from the
representation in the church of Assisi itself, though it is only in
seventeenth-century painters like Sisto Badalocchio in Parma or Rochetti
in Faenza that the stigmata are transmitted from a celestial glory or
down a broad ray of golden light. Macrino d’Alba at Turin shows the
saint receiving the image of a praying Christ on a slate with a golden
frame, and this image has the tonsured head of a monk!

And what can be quainter than the six-winged cherubs who hover round the
Madonna in a picture of the Botticelli school at Parma? Two of their red
wings are spread, the second pair crossed like legs, and the last pair
crossed over the head, making a sort of pointed cap. The faces attached
to these wings are mature, as of elderly, clean-shaven barristers.
Another comical circle of these seraphs, a few with blue wings, tends to
spoil a charming fifteenth-century _Coronation of the Virgin_ in
Florence.

Martyrdoms, too, are a rich mine of the grotesque, as witness the
boiling of St. John in the National Gallery, with its accessories of the
bellows and the blowpipe, and God lifting the saint bodily up to heaven.

In the exhilarating frescoes of Montagna in the church of the Eremitani
at Padua, St. James’s hair, which is yellowish throughout, turns black,
apparently, under the horror of an impending mallet, despite that his
halo seems like a protective plate of yellow armour. A very gay and
pleasing picture this.

Another source of the grotesque is the angelic aeroplane. In an
_Adoration of the Shepherds_ by Francesco Zaganelli in Ravenna three
wingless angels employ cherubs to bear them aloft, balancing themselves
upon the winged heads. One needs a cherub for each foot, the second
places both feet upon the same head, the third, expertest gymnast of
all, maintains himself upon one foot. Another primitive aeroplane may be
seen at Ferrara, in _The Assumption of St. Mary of Egypt_. St. Mary
rises on a platform supported from beneath by a series of nude and
clothed angels, to the amaze of a worthy signor walking in the field of
strange palms amid quaint green buildings. A rabbit, a pigeon, and a
bird continue absolutely indifferent to the phenomenon.

In a Carpaccio in the same town the cherubs fly, three heads together,
like a celestial molecule. In Zacchia da Vezzano’s _Assumption of the
Virgin_ at Lucca she rides on cherubs. There is an angelic aeroplane in
a painted relief at San Frediano in Lucca, and in Guido Reni’s
_Immaculate Conception_ at Forli (where the Virgin stands on a leaf on a
cherub’s head), and in Lippo Lippi’s picture at Prato of the Madonna
handing down her girdle to St. Thomas. Zuccari Taddeo in the Pitti uses
the angelic aeroplane to carry up Mary Magdalen, who is further provided
with a number of fussy heralds and _avant-coureurs_. Marco Antonio
Franceschini in the Palazzo Durazzo-Pallavicini of Genoa likewise
carries up the Magdalen on the backs of angels, her familiar hair
streaming over her familiar breast. Raphael’s _Vision of Ezekiel_
suggests to the profane, God the Father holding up His arms as if to
start a flying competition.

But when every generalisation is made, it is the individual genius for
blundering that opens up the most spacious vistas of humourless humour.
Byzantine art affords, of course, the most naïve illustrations. In the
sarcophagi of the Christian emperors at Ravenna you may see sheep eating
dates from tall palms. In the mosaics of the vestibule of St. Mark’s you
may see humanity unconcernedly drowning in the Deluge. Some, it is true,
are whirled helplessly on their backs, but others are quite apathetic
among the blue, curly waves. Noah looking out of the little folding
doors of the Ark is as quaint as in the mosaics of Monreale Cathedral in
Sicily. In the ancient church of S. Zeno at Verona there is an
eleventh-century fresco of the _Resurrection of Lazarus_ in which the
bystanders hold their noses—a poetic touch that was repeated in later
treatments of the theme.

In the Scuola of the Confraternity of St. Antony at Padua, Domenico
Campagnola has a fresco, _A Hungry She-Ass adores_ _the Eucharistic
Sacrament by a Miracle of the Saint, in order to convert a Heretic_. In
vain are heaps of green stuffs and corn spread and baskets tendered her
and piles of beans; the ass, on her front knees, adores the Eucharist on
a priestly table, so that even the baby lad is wrought up to adoration.
One is irresistibly reminded of Goethe’s landlady at Rome calling him to
see her cat adore God the Father like a Christian, when it was licking
the beard of the bust, probably because of the grease that had sunk into
it. In the same Scuola there is a representation of the saint’s
preaching which liberates his hearers from an approaching rain-storm.
People all around are flying to get out of the rain, not knowing that
the saint’s sermon is dry. There are charming figures of mothers and
children in the audience which atone for the unconscious humour.

But when one considers the libraries written on Italy, it is strange
that that book on her grotesques should be as yet merely an impious
aspiration, and that nobody has mocked even at those horrid little
waxworks that represent the plague-stricken. Meseems the blessèd word
“Renaissance” has hypnotised student and pleasure-pilgrim alike, but
some day an irreverent refugee from the Renaissance will gather up the
threads I but indicate. In that delectable volume of his there will be a
chapter on the camel.

For the advent of the camel marks the faint beginnings of an historic
and geographic sense, and stands for all the fantastic wonder-world of
the East. Strange that the Crusades or Venice’s Eastern Empire should
not have earlier awakened the comparative consciousness. But the East,
with its quaintness and its barbaric colour, broke very slowly upon the
culture of Europe—Victor Hugo had to rediscover it even for modern
France. Despite Altichiero’s pig-tailed Tartars, it was not till the
Byzantine Empire was destroyed in 1453 and the Turks were firmly
established in Europe that the Christian world became really aware that
the East was a world of its own. That conquest of Constantinople, from
which the blessèd Renaissance is popularly dated, by sending so many
Italians flying home, must have provided Italy with Oriental information
as well as Greek manuscripts. And the Renaissance (or re-born) camel
represents the quickened sense of local colour. At first, indeed, there
is little improvement on the Giotto breed. Apparently none of the
fugitives rode off on camels. Such fat creatures as take part in _The
Reception of the Venetian Ambassador_ (a picture of the school of
Gentile Bellini) were never seen on sand or land. The Magian kings
should have come riding on camels with swart servitors, but only a rare
artist like the animal-lover Gaudenzio Ferrari is bold enough to attempt
this local truth. And the result belongs to comedy. But a people without
circuses or zoological gardens, to which the camel was as remote as the
centaur, was not keenly aware of the anatomical details of this exotic
beast, grotesque enough at its truest. And in the hands of Gentile
Bellini himself the creature became quite possible, if still curious,
and in that great decorative picture _St. Mark preaching in the Piazza
of Alexandria_ there is a real feeling of the turbaned, shrouded and
minareted East, even if the head-shawls of the women do appear to cover
top-hats and the giraffe strolls about the piazza and the dromedary is
led by a string.

Nor is Eusebio di San Giorgio’s camel impossible in his _Adoration of
the Magi_ in San Pietro, Perugia, though immeasurably inferior to his
oxen and his horses. Carpaccio, too, gets something of Eastern
architecture and dress, if more of Venetian, into his _St. Stephen at
Jerusalem_.

But after all there is more fascination in the primitive artistry which
knew no differences of Space or Time, no colour but universal—_id est_,
Italian—no place _un_like home. The whole temper of these early
painters seems to me summed up in a picture in the Uffizi by Pietro
Lorenzetti, who lived about 1350, _Gli Anacoreti nella Tebaide_. A green
water borders a white, curving shore, and land and sea are a chaos of
trees, houses, steeples, people, skiffs, sailing-boats, all of the same
size and brightness. A like absence of perspective—geometrical,
spiritual, or humorous—is seen in Benaglio’s fresco in Verona of
_Christ Preaching by the Lake of Galilee_, or Giotto’s fresco in Santa
Croce depicting the _Apocalypse of St. John_. In the Lake of Galilee
float two gigantic ducks and a gondola, while the audience includes
mediæval falconers and pipers. Patmos is a vague turtle-shaped island,
and the saint squats in the middle of it, while above hover the
celestial figures. Temporal perspective is as confounded as spatial.
Hence all those anachronisms which give us pause. Cimabue’s Madonna
consorts with the Doctors of the Church, Fra Angelico’s with Dominicans,
Alvise Vivarini’s with Franciscans. As Dante explains, the imagination
can ignore Time, just as—though his dubious comparison weakens his
explanation—it can conceive two obtuse angles in one triangle. A truer
simile may perhaps be drawn from the Baptistery of Pisa, where the
janitor—humble link in the “nutritive chain”—chants a note to show the
wonderful echo, and after its long reverberation has been sufficiently
demonstrated he sounds the notes of a simple chord, one after another,
so that the earlier notes remain alive and enter into harmony with the
new ones, and one hears an enchanting quartet—yea, even a quintet or a
sextet. Sometimes he will set an even more complex chord in vibration,
and all the air is full of delicious harmony. Even so the mediæval
thinkers conceived of the dead and the quick, the pioneers and the
successors, all living in unison, vibrating simultaneously though they
had started in sequence, all harmoniously at one in the echoing halls of
Fame. And so things disparate could be pictured united—anachronism was
merely man putting together what blind Time had put asunder. Everything
happened in the timeless realm of ideas. And often—as we saw in
Sicily—the strictly chronological aspect of things is, indeed,
irrelevant. Space and Time are shifting illusions that the spirit
disregards. Those who are in harmony are of the same hour and of the
same place.

Nor do I know where to look for a better map of the world as it figured
itself in the mediæval mind—for your atlas with its assumption that man
inhabits mere mounds of earth fantastically patterned is as absurd as
your school chronology—than that naïve _Mappamondo_ which Pietro di
Puccio frescoed on the walls of the Campo Santo of this same white Pisa.
The universe is held in the literal hands of God, whose haloed head
appears dominatingly above, not without a suggestion of a clerical band.
In the centre of the cosmos—note the geocentric glorification—stands
the earth, mapped out into continents by a couple of single straight
lines. (If Asia lies north of Europe that is a mere turn to express its
hyperborean barbarism; in Fra Mauro’s map in the Doge’s Palace the south
has got to the top, perhaps because Venice was there.) America, of
course, is not. And yet there are compensations even for the absence of
America. For this old world is circumscribed by circle on circle. On the
rim of the third are perched the mere figures of the zodiac, but the
spaces between the remoter extra-terrestrial circles are a-swarm with
cherubs, all heads and wings, and floating robed saints and endless
haloed heads of the beatified. The dim spaces below the cosmos are
solidly garrisoned by bishop with crozier and monk with breviary, and
the predella is full of suggestions of beauty and sanctity. Thus the
whole world lies serenely in the palms of God, and saints and angels
girdle it with circles of holiness.

This is, indeed, the true way to make a map—for the actual shape of the
world is only one of the factors of our habitation, just as the actual
features of a beloved face do not constitute its total reality for us.
’Tis not eyes or nose one sees so much as those mental circles due to
loving habit in which the face swims for us—the dear haloing circles of
tender experience. Rivers and mountains have, indeed, an influence on
life, just as the real eyes and nose, but the world we live in is always
more mental than geographical, and the same rivers and mountains serve
the life of successive races. The Red Man’s America is not different
from the White Man’s on the atlas—save by the black dots which mark the
ephemeral tumuli called cities—yet the America of the Trust and the
America of the Tomahawk are two different continents. The same thin
curve marks the Thames up which the pirate Vikings sailed and the Thames
of Sunday picnics. More veraciously did the Arab geographers conceive of
a country by its autochthones and not by its configuration. For our
country lives in us much more than we live in our country.

And so, to-day, too, a true map would circumscribe our globe—not with
the equally non-existent circles of the spatial latitude and longitude,
but with those of the spiritual latitude and longitude in which we
float—only, I fear, our modern _Mappamondo_ would be girdled with dark
rings marked “Survival of the Fittest,” “Necessity for Navies,” “The
Need of Expansion,” “The Divinity of the Dollar”; soldiers and
syndicates would float around in lieu of cherubs, nor would any divine
hands appear upbearing us amid the infinite spaces.

That old Pisan map leads me to suspect that Swift saw only half a fact
when he complained that

        “Geographers in Afric maps
         With savage pictures fill their gaps.”

True, many an old map might seem to attest the truth of the accusation.
There is a map of the Dark Continent in the Museum of Venice, dated
1651, with a camel, a unicorn, a dromedary, and a lion’s tail—all put
in by hand. But in another map of “Apphrica” in the Arsenal of Venice
there are not only lions and tigers, but tents and veiled figures, and
the turrets and spires of strange buildings, and a gay sprinkling of
flags. Surely the old cartographer was less concerned to fill his gaps
than to express the poetry of geography. Maps were, in truth, of
mediocre use in ancient times when the old Roman roads took one from
town to town. What profited an aeronaut’s panorama? Maps were only
indispensable on the roadless seas. The first maps in the modern sense
were thus pragmatic, not scientific, for it was from the mariner’s map,
or _Portolano_, that rigid cartography arose. But even these coast
charts refused to be prosaic. There is one in the Venice Museum—a view
of Italy lying sideways, as if its famous foot were asleep. Never have I
seen a more joyous chart. It is all glorious with the gold and vermilion
of compasses and crests and flying banners, while mountains stand out in
red and gold. It must have belonged to a jolly mariner. In a complete
_Portolano_ of Europe each country flies its national flag, amid a whirl
of crests and compasses. And the “Portolano del 1561 di Giacomo
Maggiolo,” which may be seen in the Palazzo Bianco of Genoa, is
illuminated in gold and blue and vermilion and green, sprinkled with
compasses, sown with towered cities crowned by golden flags, and
a-flutter with flying angels and banners and the bellying sails of
carracks, with kings seated on their thrones in the middle of the sea,
under glorious canopies crowned with angels, while over the whole
presides the Madonna in her golden chair. Most taking of the monarchs is
the King of Tartary, wearing a large moustache and surrounded by golden
scimitars.

There were no gaps to fill up in these _Portolani_. No, the cynical
Swift has missed the inwardness of these old maps, in which Art was
called in to give the touch of life and reality and to eke out, not the
barrenness of knowledge in particular, but of science in general. There
is in the Uffizi an old map of Italy which fills the Mediterranean with
boats and compasses, draws the mountains, sketches the towered cities,
and illumines the names with gold-leaf. There is an old map of Venice
which perches Father Neptune dominatingly in the middle, and symbolises
the winds by the curly locks of children blowing every way, and fills
the canals with sailing-boats and galleys and gondolas. This is
something like a map of Venice. On another, which is more of a plan of
the city with its buildings named, Venice is alive with heraldic
figures, and over the roofs and domes fly winged lions and Neptune and
Venus and angels and warriors, while a stout-lunged angel blows two
trumpets at once. And the spaces of the sea are full of brave beflagged
vessels with swelling sails, and galleys with many oars. Surely all this
is less false than the dead reticulation which expresses Venice in your
modern map. The map of Genoa, too, shows the arms of the city floating
over a sea crowded with red galleys and black merchant ships and white
sailing-boats.

In these old maps the dull spaces of the world are lit up by fiery
stars, trumpeting angels, and allegorical figures, while another
symbolic group, upholding a titulary tablet, serves, as it were, to
introduce the territory to the spectator. A wreathed lady and a male
student thus combine to present Arabia. Greece is introduced and
presided over by angels. “Terra nova detecta et Floridae promontorium”
are presented by a man holding a tablet, which records how Henry VII of
England sent out John Cabot and his son Sebastian, while the dry details
are further vivified by a superdominant figure of a gallant signor in a
feathered cap, hand on globe and learnèd tome at feet. Asia, as a nymph
with a camel, presides over a map of her continent, while a prodigious
Latin title—“Quae Asiae Regna et Provinciae Hac Tabula Continentur a
Propontide usque ad Indos,” &c. &c.—records how its three makers were
sent to Russia in the fifteenth-century and how they ripped up
(_dissuerunt_) much in the published itineraries. One of the trio,
Ambrosius Contaremus, remained long in Russia to study the less-known
portions; another, Josaphat Barbarus, devoted himself for sixteen years
to the provinces round the Euxine and the Mæotian marsh. “Perlustrata
commentariolo exponunt.”

That old map of Frau Mauro which I have already mentioned belongs to
this same century, being dated 1459; a circular map this, in a gilded
frame, with little ships floating around and America away from home,
perhaps enjoying itself in Paris. Here our familiar world shows upside
down, which is, of course, as scientific as being downside up. It is
notable how Anglia and Caledonia (or Anglia Barbara, as she is styled in
Church Latin) are disguised by this simple shifting of the point of
view, and how much like herself Hibernia looks, even topsy-turvy.
Another pre-American map in the University of Ferrara pictures the winds
personified, blowing from every quarter.

The Stones of Venice also assume the forms of maps, as in those stone
reliefs on the rococo façade of S. Maria Zobenigo opposite the Traghetto
of the Lily. These are town-maps—Candia, its name upborne by a flying
boy angel; Roma with its twin brethren at the wolf’s breast; Corfu,
characterised by its castle and its beflagged galleys. The symbolic
shorthand, which I have already noted in pictures, spread also to
map-decoration as in a map at the Arsenal, wherein Ægyptus is figured by
an elephant, Libia by giraffes, Judea by the crescent and minarets,
Germany by a winged sage, and “Holy Russia” by churches.

If these old maps erred in the courses of rivers and the lines of
mountains and in ratios of space, they are not so misleading as your
modern atlas with its all too accurate earth-measurements. For even your
most primitive map, your mediæval figment, with Paradise on the East, a
gigantic Jerusalem in the centre, great spaces for Gryphons and
Cynocephali, Sciapodes and Anthropophagi, and St. Brendan’s Isles of the
Blest marked clearly west of the Canaries, gave in its way a less
distortive impression than that which we obtain from the most scientific
chart on Mercator’s projection. Your modern cartographer would persuade
you that Canada is fifty times as large as Italy, and Canada,
contemplating herself on a school globe, already pouts her breast with
the illusion. In a true map, as distinguished from a geographical, dead
Space would shrink to its spiritual nullity, and for its contribution to
the human spirit, for its amplitude of history and poesy,
Sicily—Italy’s mere foot-note—would loom larger than all the provinces
of the Canadian Confederation.

And this misleading potency of the map scientific engenders political as
well as spiritual dangers. Tariff Reform in Britain rests on the notion
of exchanging products preferentially with these great British colonies
which bulk on the map like continents, but which, as yet in their
infancy, only represent in all some poor ten million souls against the
homeland’s forty millions. Australia, beholding her unified contours
from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Bass Strait, persists in the heroic
delusion that, despite the torridity and drought of her Northern
Territory, she is a single country, and that country a white man’s—nay,
a Briton’s exclusively. For it is from the surplus population of the
little island in the Northern Sea that all these continents into which
Britain has blundered are to be filled up: a notion which lives in the
same brains that fever with alarm over the exodus from her shores. And
all save the spherical maps foster an infinity of fallacies of
dimension: drawn to fill the like-sized page in the atlas, South America
seems a twin of India; Ireland and Madagascar (which contains seven
Erins) look much of a muchness; and Brazil, which is almost another
Europe, bulges in the imagination less than the Balkan Peninsula. What
wonder if statesmen have misguided the destinies of nations and
misdirected wars by false impressions derived from atlases, with their
deceptive distances and their obscurations of the real character of
territories, rivers, or harbours. Seoul, the capital of Corea, Lord
Curzon tells us, seems on the river, yet it is three or four miles away,
and approachable only by a canal at times shallow. “Get large maps,”
advised the late Lord Salisbury; but I would say, beware of maps
altogether. For your school map would foist upon you the delusion that
Morocco is not the East at all, but actually ten degrees more westerly
than London! Whereas every schoolboy knows that it is in the middle of
the “Arabian Nights.” With the Orient thus thrown south-west of Europe,
we are as befogged by the atlas of to-day as by the old maps which put
the Orient on the top. In truth, the Orient, like heaven, is not a
place, but a state of mind.

To the deuce with your parallels of longitude! Fez in the West,
forsooth!



    AN EXCURSION INTO HEAVEN AND HELL: WITH A DEPRECIATION OF DANTE


In that volume on the grotesque a chapter—nay, a section—would deal
with the attempts of Art to give form and colour to that after-world
“from whence no traveller returns.” The grotesquerie belongs more to the
thought than to the picture, for in eschatological æsthetics the
horrible can be reconciled to the decorative, as it is in Giotto’s _Last
Judgment_ at Padua, which I suppose is the earliest treatment of the
theme that counts, and which, as Giotto and Dante were in Padua
together, was probably painted under the personal influence of that
great authority and explorer. There is no justification in Dante’s own
work, however, for the Father’s supersession by the Son, who—while _Il
Padre Eterno_ is relegated to the choir-arch—occupies, as so often, the
judicial bench, and looms dominant in a large polychromatic oval like an
incomplete spectrum, with saints at either hand on golden chairs, and
golden companies of hovering angels, the Cross beneath his feet making a
decorative division of Heaven from Hell, and its arms providing
clinging-points for floating angels. Among the beatific company on the
celestial side of the Cross are monks presenting their monastery to lady
saints, and fussy nude corpses of all ages and both sexes bobbing up out
of their coffins, some looking round in surprise, some instinctively
begging for grace, and one looking back into his coffin, as into a cab
for something forgotten. The Hell is a chaos of tortures, overdusked by
the Personal Hell, the fee-fi-fo-fum ogre (with whom I came to grow very
familiar) who gulps down sinners like oysters. You see their legs
protruding, and others ready for his maw clutched in his greedy hands.
Still other sinners stand on their heads or hang by their hair or quiver
under the tortures of gorilla-like devils and strange serpentine beasts,
or whirl like Paolo and Francesca. And over all the agony, with
beautiful serene face, floats the angel, clinging to the Cross, and the
saints sit placid on their golden chairs, perhaps, as in that ecstatic
prevision of Tertullian, finding their bliss enhanced by these wails of
woe, as one’s enjoyment of one’s warm hearth is spiced by the howling of
the winds about.

The mere ardour of life was immoral to the mediæval mind, as we may see
from the celebrated anonymous frescoes of _Il Trionfo della Morte_ in
the Campo Santo of Pisa—as if a cemetery needed any enforcement of
Death’s triumph! But the opportunity is seized of besmirching “The
Triumph of Life,” and by way of prelude to the tomb and its terrors a
gay cavalcade of hunters rides to the chase, with hound and horn,
winding through a lovely landscape. Their horses are arrested by three
open coffins on the roadside, precisely of the shape of horse-troughs,
but containing corpses, apparently a king’s, a priest’s, and a layman’s.
The last is a mere skeleton; the others are fully robed and serpents
curl spitefully about them. A stag, a rabbit, and a partridge rest
serenely upon a little plateau, as if conscious there will be no danger
to-day from these disconcerted sportsmen. A cowled monk holds out a long
scroll to the leader of the chase, like an official presenting an
address. Other holy hermits read ostentatiously beneath the trees
outside their humble cottage, and one milks a quaint goat. As if the
hermit were more immune from death than the hunter! Overhead hover
fearful fire-breathing demons bearing beautiful women head downwards to
their doom. Towards the centre of the entire picture, of which this
forms but a half, sweeps Death, a sombre flying figure with a great
scythe, whom cripples and the sorrowful invoke in vain; underneath are
his slain, upon whose bodies swoop demons with long pitchforks and
angels with long crosses, fighting furiously for the spoil, in a game of
pull devil, pull angel. In one case the angel has gripped the arms, the
devil the feet, and they tug and lug with wings distended to their
fullest, every muscle a-strain; even if the angel succeeds, the racked
ghost will have known the Inferno. Let us pray the poor soul may recover
breath in the Hesperian garden, where sit the meek sainted playing on
lutes and lyres or nursing pet doves and spaniels.

A companion fresco devotes itself to _The Last Judgment_. To the sound
of angel-trumpets the dead rise from their coffins, to be marched right
or left by stern sworded archangels, as the great arbiter—again in a
surmounting oval—may determine. Haloed saints occupy a safe platform on
high and watch the suppliant, panic-stricken sinners in the dock. Hell
in many compartments takes half the picture, Satan throned at centre, a
grisly Colossus, horned and fanged, and each compartment a chamber of
horrors unspeakable, or a caldron of stewing sinners, most noteworthy of
whom are the three arch-heretics of the fourteenth century, Mohammed,
Anti-Christ, and Averroes (the last grown much less respectable since
Dante put him with Plato). This composition—the heretics apart—is
obviously on the general lines of Giotto’s, which may be considered the
archetype of all the Judgment pictures, and the crudity of the
conception is apparent. It is a mere parody of earthly tribunals. In the
hands of a Signorelli—as at Orvieto—the vigour of the technique
dominates and sweeps away the _naïveté_. It is the sublimity of terror—

        “Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
         Their loud uplifted angel trumpets blow.”

But this conventional and crowded rendering has always impressed me far
less than Maso di Bianco’s in S. Croce, where a solitary soul appears
for judgment in a wild gorge under the throne of Christ, while two
down-sweeping angels, blowing their trumpets perpendicularly, assist the
awesomeness of the design. What a pity Michelangelo did not handle the
theme with this massive simplicity, and give us one naked, shivering
soul with the fierce light of judgment beating upon him, instead of the
stereotyped arrangement of the Judge on high, the blessed on his right,
the damned on his left, the rising dead at his feet, with Hell opening
underneath! His colossal fresco, with its huddle of naked saints—to
which the clothes provided by later Popes lent the last touch of
gloom—is, with the possible exception of Tintoretto’s _Paradise_, the
dismallest picture in the world, and it is even worse placed than
Tintoretto’s stupendous canvas.

The angel Michael, whose scales weigh souls, must have been hard at work
ere he could find enough good people to fill this _Paradise_. When I
last peeped into it in the Palace of the Doges, it was conveniently on
the floor, having been removed from its wall for repair, and, standing
thus propped up in the centre of the Sala del Maggior Consiglio, it
loomed even more gigantic than my recollection of it, filling half the
vast hall and extending to the ceiling. Its precise dimensions,
according to a buzzing attendant, were twenty-two metres broad by seven
metres high. Here surely is the prize of prizes for the American
millionaire. The largest picture in the world! Think of it! But, alas! a
pauperised Government arrogantly clings to its treasures, forbids
exportation. How smuggle it out? What railway carriage could hold it?
How get it even across the Grand Canal to the station? What gondola,
what _barca_, what _vapore_ even could carry it? Perhaps a bridge of
boats might be built, as for the passing of an army. And an army indeed
it holds.

Tintoretto’s Heaven is, in fact, congested beyond any hygienic standard.
’Tis a restless, jostling place, unpleasing and muddy in colour, where
you are doomed to carry for ever the emblems of your life, where Moses
must eternally uphold his Tables of the Law and St. George sport his
armour, and martyrs shiver in perpetual undress. As usual, God the
Father is an absentee Lord, and Christ and the Madonna—in equal
authority, not with the woman subordinate, as in a Veronese in the same
Sala—dominate the chaos of figures, flying, whirling, praying, playing,
or reading. To see this Heaven is to be reconciled with Earth. Some
parts of it are already destroyed, and I look forward to the day when it
shall pass away with a great noise. Smaller but far more select is
Tintoretto’s impressionist _Paradiso_ in the Louvre, with its rainbow
swirls or celestial vortices, its curving sweeps of figures flying on
clouds, only prosaic by its platform where Christ, the Madonna, and the
greater saints sit like the distinguished persons at a public meeting.
His _Purgatorio_ in Parma is equally imaginative, a whirl of figures and
wild cliffs and rugged, lurid, serpent-haunted chasms, down which angels
plunge to bring up souls to the Madonna, who sits alone in her gloriole.
Bartolommeo Spranger’s Heaven—which may be seen in Turin—is a place
where saintly companies link hands as in a child’s game, while grimacing
demons or snakes tear at sinners.

Palma Giovane tried to cover the entrance wall of the Sala dello
Scrutinio of the Doge’s Palace with an emulation of Tintoretto, but the
main renown of his _Last Judgment_ seems to rest on his humorous idea of
putting his wife both into Heaven and Hell. The use of Hell to pay off
private scores is not unique with Palma, and of course everybody can
plead the precedent of Dante.

In another Venetian Paradise—that of Jacobello del Fiore—the
symmetrical groups of haloed saints in blue and red and gold recall
exactly the groups in the La Scala ballet. The Paradise in Botticelli’s
_Assumption of the Virgin_ in the National Gallery is also somewhat
geometric, though the empty lilied court below gives beautiful relief.
Fra Bartolommeo’s large faded fresco of _The Last Judgment_, in
Florence, with its sworded archangel to greet the poor souls as they
rise from their graves, is inspired by the Pisan fresco, and is less
interesting than that of Fra Angelico, his fellow Dominican at San
Marco, in whom we breathe a serener, clearer air, though his sweetness
and finish accentuate again the intellectual _naïveté_. His series of
little panels in the Accademia of Florence has a quaint originality, the
Judge sitting over a mystic red and green wheel, with the blessed on
either hand. Angels welcome newcomers or lament over the rejected, while
demons poke spears into the damned. More conventional in composition is
his large easel-picture in the same room—a miracle of detailed
loveliness, except for the Hell, which is botched, as though unsuited to
his artistic temperament. Indeed we know he made his devil hideous out
of sheer dislike of the theme. The sheep are divided from the goats by a
curious row of open graves resembling sky-lights. The Judge is
superdominant, angels and babes hovering round him, the trumpeting
angels at his feet. In the Paradise of flowers walk the saints in
couples and companies; the sinners—in crowns, mitres, or mere caps—are
driven Hellward at the points of a pitchfork into their respective
circles, where some are eaten of the horrible horned Satan, some are
eating one another, and others are gnawing their own bloody hands. There
are sinners seething in pots, sinners starving at a laden table, sinners
hung up, sinners holding their own heads in their hands. Demons like
brown bears gnash white teeth, and in the north-north-east corner of
Hell a capacious big-toothed gullet—horrible in its suggestion of more
behind—is gulping down two red-headed wretches. In his _Christ in
Hades_ the gentle painter, following an apocryphal gospel, incarnates
Hell in a demon crushed beneath its door.

In the Strozzi Chapel of S. Maria Novella the theme is repeated by the
brothers Orcagna. Andrea took Paradise and suffused it with tender
beauty, fitting it with row upon row of seraphim and saintly figures,
whose serried symmetrical haloes suggest, however, a marshalling of
saints for inspection; while Bernardo made of Hell a chart of
ugliness—a compartmental chaos of strange fading horrors—fading though
the Heaven has lasted. But it is not easy to get decorative beauty into
the Inferno, especially when broken up into parishes of pain and not
part of a complete _Last Judgment_ such as that by Andrea single-handed
in the same Chapel. In this last, angels carrying the cross and the
thorns make a variant in the composition. In the Spanish Chapel of the
same church _The Way to Paradise_ is treated as of more concern to
mortals than the nature of the goal, of which we get the merest peep;
and perhaps the artist’s own concern was Beauty, for the central pattern
of the picture is woven by a procession on richly caparisoned horses
winding round and round. Tranquilly beautiful are the figures at the
Passion, even apart from the tender figure of Christ, whose halo hides
the form of the decorative polished cross he bears.

The Paradise is, however, a Dominican Paradise, for this noble fresco on
examination turns out to be a complicated allegory in glorification of
the order, even including the pictorial pun or rebus of black-and-white
dogs (_domini canes_), guarding the faithful sheep and worrying the
heretical wolves. The Dominican Heaven has always a marked preference
for Dominican dogma, as the Dominican Hell is particularly hospitable to
rival forms of teaching. Incidentally this great anonymous painting is a
social _Mappamondo_ of the mediæval, including every type in Church and
State from Pope to pauper; the vanities and pomps, the penances and
renunciations. A lovely peace broods over this picture, as over all the
Chapel. Hell does not disturb its restful walls, save as the mild Limbo
to which Christ descends to redeem Adam, Noah, and other figures,
proleptically haloed. He hovers majestically over the vague scene,
carrying a red-cross flag over his left shoulder. It is only the demons
who give grotesquerie to the picture, but they are unsurpassable. One of
these baffled imps falls prostrate in the void, another is tearing his
goatee beard, a third stands scowling, with folded wings, the hair of a
fourth stands on end, a bristle of wires. This last demon is livid in
hue; his fellows are more or less fiery.

Bronzino has dealt less happily, if less grotesquely, with the same
theme, for to his later vision it was a good opportunity for studying
the nude and the half-nude. But to follow out the theme of _Christ in
Hades_ would carry me too far. I must, however, refer to the touching
conception of Christ _rushing_ to the rescue: as in the picture by
Andrea Previtali in which Christ is seen in a whirl of drapery with a
streaming flag, pulling up an old woman and a girl. A large cross
occupies the centre of this Limbo, to which cling or pray rescued nude
figures, while St. John stands by with a smaller cross.

The after-world was rendered not only in painting, but in other
art-media. In his famous pulpit in the Baptistery of Pisa Niccolò Pisano
carved it in relief, imaginatively rendering the faces of the damned
almost animal with sin. Byzantine art treated it in mosaic and enamel,
in stone and bronze, while on the rich-jewelled Pala d’Oro of St.
Mark’s, _Christ in Hades_ has called forth the craft of the goldsmith.
An exhaustive study of eschatological æsthetics would include also the
innumerable apotheoses and receptions in Heaven, would involve a
comparison with Teutonic and other pictorial conceptions, and would
range from the pious sincerities of the primitives to the decorative
compositions of the decadents.

I do not know if any scholar has yet thus treated the genesis and
evolution of these pictorial images. They certainly did not derive from
Dante, for Dante’s poem itself contains an allusion to a Florentine
calamity, which we know to have been the collapse in 1304 of a wooden
bridge over the Arno, holding spectators of a popular representation of
the horrors of the Inferno.

Moreover—apart from the demons and chimæras dire on the old Etruscan
tombs—fumblings at the theme exist in art prior to Dante, as, for
instance, those rude bronze reliefs in the Byzantine manner on the doors
of S. Zeno in Verona, which mark, as it were, the Bronze Age of the
concept. These, I was assured, were ninth-century, but even dating them
at the eleventh or twelfth—and the church contains frescoes as
early—they were in time for Dante to have seen them when enjoying Can
Grande’s hospitality in Verona. His denunciation of Alberto della Scala
for appointing his bastard as abbot of the monastery shows his interest
in S. Zeno. In these rude bronzes Dante beheld the bare elements of that
Hell which he furnished so handsomely. Here is already the giant
fee-fi-fo-fum figure holding—O primeval irony!—a quaking monk. Here is
the sinner upside down whose legs are disappearing within a caldron.
Here also, in another bronze relief, is Christ in Limbo, haling figures
out. Christ’s halo is novel, consisting of three tufts, one sticking out
on either side of his head, the other on top. It may interest the
decadent to learn that there is also a relief of Salome dancing, in
which she anticipates all the modern contortionists.

To pass back from the Bronze Age of the _Last Judgment_ to the Stone
Age, that fine old Lombardic cathedral of Ferrara, whose lateral façades
date from 1135, shows in a lunette over one of them a stone relief of
_The Day of Judgment_. Flanked by saints, “God’s in his Heaven,” holding
the saved souls in his lap in a sort of sheet, while the devil in his
Hell pokes up his busy fire and an acolyte shoves a sinner down a
dragon’s mouth. The Baptistery of Parma, a structure less ancient, but
still antecedent to Dante, shows on its left portal three dead men
coming out of their tombs, to be received by the angels or the
executioner, according to the dictum of the Judge on high, who is
nursing a saved soul. The guilty lean anxiously out of curious stone
buildings, apparently awaiting their turn to be decapitated.

With such compositions existing in Italy, it seems supererogatory of M.
Didron to have counted more than fifty French illustrations of the
“Divine Comedy,” before Dante, painted on church windows or sculptured
on church portals, or for M. Lafitte to seek for Dante’s inspiration in
the western portal of Notre-Dame, which he must have seen during his
stay in Paris.

Giotto, then, did not altogether originate his conception of the
Judgment scene. Indeed, already in the alleged discourse of Josephus to
the Greeks concerning Hades, we have a word-picture of the Hebrew Day of
Judgment in which the souls of the just are marshalled to the right and
the souls of the sinners to the left.

Dante may equally be exonerated from the crime of having originated
these grotesque notions of the after-world, if he cannot be exonerated
from the crime of corroborating them. These infantile images were made
in the brains of fasting monks and terror-stricken sinners—for brains
make day-dreams as well as nightmares—on a confused basis of the
classic Hades and Tartarus and Elysium and the Egyptian after-world and
the Hebrew Gehennah, supplemented by misapplied texts and misunderstood
metaphors. They drew their appeal from that conflict ’twixt good and
evil which every man felt raging in his own soul, and which made
plausible the externalisation of these forces as angels and demons
fighting for its possession.

But though the first sketch of the Christian Hell appears in literature
as early as the apocryphal “Acts of St. Thomas,” Dante may be said to
have systematised these chaotic conceptions, drawn the chart of the
Hereafter, and determined the scientific frontiers between Hell and
Limbo, Purgatory and Paradise. His are the nine concentric circles of
the Inferno, though Acheron and Minos, Charon and Cerberus, are borrowed
from his guide and master; he is the sole discoverer and surveyor of the
island-mountain of Purgatory, so precisely antipodal to Jerusalem, with
its seven parishes corresponding to the seven deadly sins; his are the
nine Heavens, ascending to the Beatific Vision, that is circumscribed by
the thrice three orders of the angelic hierarchies. Nevertheless,
marvellous as is the sustained imaginativeness of the achievement, his
contribution to the stock of eschatological ideas is comparatively
small. The vulgar imagination is quite capable of bodying forth these
grimacing, horned demons, these imps with prongs and lashes, those
swooping fiends, that heavy head-gear,—not unlike the English high hat
in August—those fiery floods, those gibbering, wailing ghosts, those
wretches immersed in ordure, those ghastly sinners munching each other,
those disgustful stenches and itchings. Dante would not be remembered
for such nursery horrors. Happily, he enriched the theme with finer
imaginings. They meet us at the very threshold of the dolorous city in
those neutral souls good enough neither for Heaven nor Hell; like the
abdicating Pope Celestine V, neither rebels against God nor true to Him.
Yet Dante almost spoilt his own conception by adding the material pains
inflicted by wasps and hornets to their eternal nullity. Kipling, in his
probably unconscious approximation to the idea in “Tomlinson,” had a
sounder instinct, though perhaps Ibsen’s idea of returning Peer Gynt to
the Button-Moulder hits the truer penology. Dante’s touch is more
satisfying when he pictures the doom of those who were sad in sunny air,
and must now continue sad in the more appropriate surroundings of slime.
Yet there is here a touch of the Gilbertian grotesque; a foreshadowing
of the Mikado, whose “object all sublime” was “to make the punishment
fit the crime.” This suggestion is even stronger in the twenty-seventh
canto, where Mohammed and the arch-heretics who provoked schisms are
ripped and cleft from chin to forelock. Savagery, too, is met by savage
punishment, as in the Ugolino episode.

There are a few inventions, indeed, beyond the vulgar imagination: the
six-footed serpent that transmutes the sinner to its own form, a passage
palpitating with Æschylean genius; the monstrous-paunched coiner,
consumed with a terrible hate; the shore “turreted with giants”; the
tears that cannot be shed. Nor could the vulgar—pre-occupied with
fire—have conceived a Hell of ice, though Dante’s Arctic circle is
bettered in the Gospel of Barnabas preserved in an Italian MS., which
compounds a Hell of fire and ice united by the Justice of God, “so that
neither tempers the other, but each gives its separate torment to the
infidel,” and in Vondel’s “Lucifer” the archfiend is condemned to

                                        “The eternal fire
        Unquenchable, with chilling frosts commingled.”

But neither the Dutch poet nor his contemporary, Milton, condescended to
the fee-fi-fo-fum infantility of Dante’s three-headed King of Hell, that
fantastic fiend who holds in each of his mouths one of the three
archetypal traitors, Judas, Brutus, and Cassius. And that Dante’s
“Judgment” was not considered “The Last” is shown by the popularity of
Brutus—as a tyrannicide—in the Florence of the Medici. The beauty of
the verse and the imaginative intensity alone render Dante’s “Inferno”
bearable. Translated into the images of Signorelli or Michelangelo—and
these more truly than Botticelli were Dante’s illustrators—the
grossness of his “Inferno” leaps to the eye, while his finer imaginings
are not capable of interpretation by brush or pencil.

The paradox of the “Divina Commedia,” indeed, is that it lives less by
its supernatural visionings, sombre and splendid as these occasionally
are, than by its passages of the earth, earthy, when the world the poet
has left behind breaks in upon the starless gloom of Hell or upon the
too ardent radiancy of Paradise. Nor need I prove my case by the
familiar episodes of Paolo and Francesca, and of Ugolino, though Dante’s
fame rests so largely upon them. Never was poem more terrestrial, more
surcharged with the beauty and grossness of earth-life. The delicious
touches of natural beauty, the splendid descriptions of sunrise and
moonlight, the keen observation of animal and insect life, of starlings
and doves, of storks and frogs, of falcons and goshawks, the pictures of
the jousts at Arezzo, or of the busy arsenal of Venice, the homely
similes painting indirectly the labours of ploughmen and shepherds,
warriors and sailors, even the demeanour of dicers—this last Dante’s
sole approach to humour—it is by these that Dante will live when his
Heaven and Hell are rolled up like a scroll. The sound of the vesper
bell that touches the earthly pilgrim moves us more than all the
celestial music of the Purgatory; the vision of beatific goodness,
beside the lovely picture of the ancient virtue of Florence in the
homely ages, is an airy nothing—one is more interested even to hear the
ladies of the day rebuked for their low-necked dresses. The dazzling
circles of Paradise leave us lethargic compared with the irrelevant
intrusion therein of the lark’s rapture of song or the earthly pain of
exile.

        “Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
         Lo pane altrui, e com’è duro calle
         Lo scendere e’l salir per l’altrui scale.”

To prove how salt is others’ bread, how hard the passage up and down
others’ stairs! How impotent all the laboured strivings to shadow forth
the vision celestial compared with this touch of the terrestrial
concrete! In truth Dante did not go “out of his senses,” even in his
most transcendental moments of inspiration. His five senses were all he
had wherewith to obtain the raw material of his imaginings, and out of
his sensations of touch and sight, of smell and taste and hearing, he
wove both his Hell and his Heaven. The stored repugnances of mankind,
the shudders and horrors at beasts and serpents, at bites and wounds and
loathsome diseases, the dread of fire—he himself was condemned to be
burnt alive—the chill of ice, the nausea of stinks and dizzying
motions—these are the factors of his Hell, as the odour of flowers and
incense, the shimmer of jewels, the sound of music, and the pains and
pleasures of anticipation are the factors of his Purgatory. As for his
Paradise, it is merely the sublimation of the philosophic Elysium
Aristotle and Cicero had conceived before Christianity; his very ecstasy
of Light is anticipated by Seneca.

Restlessness is a recurring image of doom with Dante—and perhaps his
own wander-years of exile lent vividness to the onward drifting of the
neutral spirits, the unrepose of the learned sinners, the eternal whirl
of Paolo and Francesca. Yet there are moments in which Dante rises
beyond his gross scale of punishments to a more spiritual plane.

        “Thou art more punished in that this thy pride
         Lives yet unquenched; no torrent, save thy rage,
         Were to thy fiery pain proportioned full.”

In addressing this observation to Capaneus, Virgil, says Dante, spoke in
a higher-raised accent than ever before. In a less literal sense, it is
indeed a higher accent: it is even the note of modern thinking, from
Spinoza onwards. The wages of sin is—sin! It is probably even the note
of an earlier and still more misunderstood Master. But this note is only
heard once and faintly. The wages of sin is physical torture. But surely
such a Hell is unjustly balanced by such a Heaven—all Platonic
intellection, Plotinian ecstasy, and ethereal Light. If the wages of sin
is physical torture, then the wages of virtue should be physical
rapture. Dante’s Hell requires Mohammed’s Heaven, just as Christ’s
Heaven requires an immaterial Hell. For if the Kingdom of God is within
you, the Kingdom of the Devil cannot be without. This thought broke
dimly on Milton when, despite his material Hell, he wrote of Satan:

        “But the hot Hell that always in him burns,
         Though in mid-heaven. . . .”

Dante’s Purgatory possesses, indeed, some of the material attractions a
logical Heaven needs: it has all the makings of an Earthly Paradise not
inferior to Addison’s in his “Vision of Mirza.” There are even great set
pieces of painting, and much that might well tempt the soul to linger on
its upward way.

The soul of the present critic is also tempted to seek superiority by
preferring the Paradise to the Inferno. Alas! a law of psychology has
ordained that pleasures shall be less exciting than tortures, and hence
the Purgatory is far duller than the Inferno, while the Paradise is
hopelessly swamped in sweetness and light. The splendid vision of the
snow-white Rose—wonderful as poetry—retains little spiritual value
under analysis, though the majestic passion of the close of the great
poem almost carries up the spirit with closed eyes to this dazzling
infinitude of Light and Love.

Read as a poem of earth, the “Divine” Comedy has for us a value quite
other than Dante—in his political and prophetic passion—designed. What
we see in it is the complete _Mappamondo_ of the mediæval, a complete
vision of the world, with its ethics, its philosophy and its science, as
it reflected itself in the shining if storm-tossed soul of the poet,
whose epic was alike the climax and the conclusion of the Middle Ages.
No wonder the Italian quotes it with the finality of a Gospel text. For
this epic is less of a people than of humanity. Though the Florentine
background is of the pettiest—including even Dante’s apologia for
breaking a font in the church of St. John—it is really world-history
with which the poem is concerned; not world-history as the modern
conceives it, for Dante’s _Mappamondo_ held neither America nor China,
neither Russia nor Japan, but that selected conceptual world—that
autocosm—in which the cultured of his day lived and had their being: a
world in which classic and chivalric legend had their equal part—as
they have in the poetry of Milton—so that the very “Paradiso” could
open with an invocation to Apollo! And this world-history is unified by
being strung together on a moral plan, precisely as in the Hebrew Bible,
Judas and Brutus finding themselves equally in Lucifer’s avenging fangs.
The flames of righteous indignation redeem the crude brimstone, and if
we bleed for the sinners, the sins under chastisement are mainly those
we would wish purged from the universe in the white flame of
righteousness. Indeed, this great sensuous, sinful Tuscan, who went
unscathed through the dolorous city, is a soul on fire. He is taken up
to Heaven, like Elijah, but in the fiery chariot of his own ardour. His
passion is the stars, visible symbol of beauty and infinity. Each of his
three great sections ends with the very words. “The stars” shine again
in that noble letter refusing the Republic’s terms of pardon. “What!”
cries the exile, “shall I not everywhere enjoy the sight of the sun and
the stars?” “The love that moves the sun and the other stars” is,
indeed, the great doctrine of the poem—its literal last word. How this
love, “this goodness celestial, whose signature is writ large on the
universe,” is to be reconciled with the spirit that moves the flame and
the other dooms, he does not explain. Though ever and anon his own tears
of pity flow, the doctrine of eternal hopeless torture does not appal
him; not even though, at the Day of Judgment, worse is in store, for the
sufferers shall by then have subtilised their practised nerves for the
final damnation. It does not disconcert him—any more than it
disconcerts his great admirer, Michelangelo—that unbaptised infants and
heathens whose only crime was chronological should sigh in Limbo, and
that Adam and Noah, Abraham and Moses themselves, should need for their
salvation the special descent of Christ. For all his sublimity, his
passionate metaphysic insight into the Godhead, he falls below the
homely Rabbis of the Talmud, who taught eight or ten centuries earlier,
“The righteous of all nations have a share in the World-to-Come.” Yet
there are broken lights of this truth here and there.

                                            “But lo! of those
        Who call, ‘Christ, Christ,’ there shall be many found
        In judgment, further off from Him by far
        Than such to whom His name was never known.”

And the fine temper of the man is shown in his struggle against the
pitiful obsessions of a provincial theology; in his gratitude towards
the great Teachers of Antiquity, his reverence for whom anticipated the
Renaissance, albeit the Greeks among them were probably known to him
only in Latin translations. A Dante of the Renaissance—if such were
possible—might have placed Aristotle and Plato in Paradise by
interposition of a Christ loving his Gospel tongue. Bernardo Pulci did,
indeed, place Cicero and sundry Roman heroes in Heaven. But even during
the Renaissance Savonarola proclaimed that Plato and Aristotle were in
Hell, and the best that Dante in his rigider century could do for them
was to put them in a painless Limbo, which they perambulate “with slow
majestic port,” acquiring from their continuous earthly reputation grace
which holds them thus far advanced, and which it seems not beyond all
hoping may ultimately exalt them to bliss. And with Aristotle, the
“maestro di color che sanno,” walk not only Homer and Euclid, but his
Mohammedan commentator, Averroes, and even mythical figures like Orpheus
and Hector. A Christendom that had never altogether lost touch with the
classical world—were it only by way of Virgil, mediæval saint and
sorcerer—a Christendom whose philosophers found ingenious inspiration
in Aristotle, could not easily relegate to the flames either the
classical writers or their works. Classic literature and mythology made
a second Bible, as the lore of chivalry and general history a third;
indeed, these were the three great circles in which swam the world of
the mediæval _Mappamondo_, the Biblical circle outermost and nearest to
Heaven. Yet it was a bold stroke of tolerance on Dante’s part to make
Virgil his guide, chronology giving him no chance, as it gave with
Statius, of a legendary conversion to Christianity. And this penchant
for the great Pagans accentuates his intolerance to the great Christian
heretics. But if Virgil himself was excluded from Heaven “for no sin
save lack of faith”—Virgil who could not possibly have believed—if
even the merits of those who lived before the Gospel, could not profit
them because they had missed baptism, it is not surprising to find the
Christian heretics collected in the ninth canto in burning sepulchres of
carefully graduated temperatures. One wishes that they, rather than
Farinata degli Uberti, had held their heads high, with a fine disdain
foreshadowing Milton’s Satan. How Socrates would have smiled over the
perverted morality of the Christian poet, as we smile over the
constricted foot of a Chinese lady! Despite the attempt of a recent
writer to moralise his scheme of salvation, the best that can be said
for Dante is that he probably followed Aquinas in holding that there is
no positive pain in that absence of the divine vision which St.
Chrysostom made the severest part of the punishment of the damned. But
in tolerance as well as humour he falls far below the _Ha-Tofet
weha-Eden_ (“Hell and Paradise”) of his Jewish friend and imitator,
Immanuel. It is in vain that Émile Gebhart (in “L’Italie Mystique”)
points to his revolutionary liberalism in placing Ripheus the Pagan and
Trajan, the Roman Emperor, in Paradise. These apparent exceptions only
bring out his lack of tolerance and humour more vividly. For, though the
Æneid describes the fallen hero, Ripheus, as “justissimus unus” among
the Trojans and “the most observant of right,” yet it is not by the
simple force of his own goodness but by some complex operation of grace
under which he believes in the Christ that has not yet been born, and
even turns missionary, that he penetrates among the “luci sante.” As for
the Emperor Trajan, complexity is still worse confounded, for
he—despite the title he had won of _Optimus_—must serve his time in
hell, and is only popped into Paradise after being resuscitated,
converted and baptized by St. Gregory four hundred years after his first
decease. Thus both Ripheus and Trajan died Christians, Dante assures us
gravely, not Gentiles as the world imagines; one believing in the
Crucifixion that was to be, and the other in the Crucifixion that had
been.

                        “Cristiani, in ferma fede
        Quel de’ passuri, e quel de’ passi piedi.”

With all Dante’s stippling and geometric chart-drawing, his conception
of the after-world is not really clear. The sinners are able to deliver
long monologues, amid all their agony; they foreknow things terrestrial,
exactly like the Manes of Paganism; they quarrel with one another; there
are even high jinks in Hell, which according to Burckhardt show an
Aristophanic humour. (But then Burckhardt is a German.) Moreover, a
certain free will reigns. The undefined powers of the demons import into
Dante’s excursion through their dominions a deal of breathlessness and
terror from which one should be exempt who travels with a “safe-conduct”
acquired by the interposition of powerful personages in Paradise.

Such are the nebulous rings hovering round Dante’s _Mappamondo
Infernale_. But the circles of his _Mappamondo Terrestre_ are clear and
resplendent. ’Twas within the illumination of these
circles—unnecessarily narrowing though they were—that the Middle Ages,
and even Ages later, built their sublime cathedrals, painted their
lovely Madonnas, and wrote their great poems. For though doubtless much
sacred art is merely splendid sensuous decoration, and some even of that
which is indubitably spiritual may have been the work of free-thinking
and free-living artists, it remains true that the Dark Ages had a light
which electricity cannot replace.

But is our modern _Mappamondo_ as scientific as we think it? Can we
girdle it with no circles amid which to sail securely again through the
infinities?



                     ST. GIULIA AND FEMALE SUFFRAGE


Vastly strange are the wanderings of saints and pictures. When a
Magnificent One ordered for his gilded _sala_ a Madonna—even with
himself and his consort superadded—he was, for aught he knew, helping
to decorate Hampton Court in Inghilterra, or the mansion of a
master-butcher in undiscovered and unchristened Pennsylvania. And when a
saint was born, an equal veil hid the place of his death or of his
ultimate patronage. The fate of St. Francis, to live and die and be
canonised in his birthplace, was of the rarest. His pendant, St.
Dominic, came from Old Castile, and was buried in Bologna.

It is no surprise, therefore, to find St. Giulia, of Carthage, in
possession of Brescia, though I must confess that until I stumbled upon
the frescoes consecrated to her in the church of S. Maria del Solario
her name and fame were unknown to me. Luini painted these frescoes, the
sacristan said, though the connoisseurs omit to chronicle them and will
doubtless repudiate the attribution. The date of 1520 appended to the
somewhat free and easy Latin epigraph beneath does indeed bring them
well within Luini’s working period, but their authenticity interests me
less than the story they tell.

St. Giulia, it would appear, was born in the seventh century of a noble
Carthaginian family, and was endowed with holy learning and every
spiritual grace.

        “Stemate præsignis Carthagine nata libellos
         Docta sacros, anima, corpus gestuque pudica,
         Curatu patiens, humilis, jejuniaque pollens.”

Such a maiden could only become an apostle to the heathen. Accordingly,
we see her arrive at Corsica in a boat with neither oar nor sail, and
start praying to the true God. A good-natured citizen warns her of the
risks of such heresy, and the kindly ruler of Corsica himself adjures
her to discretion, his monitions being emphasised by a man with an axe
who stands behind him. But holding her prayer-book, and already crowned
with her halo, she prays on. The next fresco shows the inevitable
sequel. She is hanging by her hair to the bough of a pretty tree, while
an executioner prods at her bleeding breasts with a three-pronged fork,
though his head is turned away, as if he were not over-proud of his job.
The kindly ruler, however, continues his remonstrances. In the distance
a small, dim angel wings his way to her. Finally, she is stretched on a
cross, and two ruffians batter her with massive clubs, but angels hold
the palm and wreath over her head, and the Dove flies towards her. These
celestial visions are a true interpretation and externalisation of the
psychology of the martyr: these alone could support her. In our own day
the visions of our martyrs are less concrete; they die for some far-seen
ideal of Justice or Freedom, and this suffices to sustain them in
Spanish prisons or under the Russian knout.

But what is peculiarly noteworthy in the story of Giulia is the status
of woman in the Dark Ages and under the Catholic Church. St. Giulia
appears to enjoy as great a roving licence as St. Augustine, her
fellow-citizen in Carthage and “The City of God.” She is not considered
unsexed, nor does her teaching rank below man’s, and she is canonised
equally with the male. In fact, in leaving the home-nest to preach to
the heathen, she is only following the model of Thekla in the Apocryphal
“Acts of St. Paul,” whose story, though it was forged by a pious elder,
is none the less proof of woman’s position in that highest of all
ancient spheres, Religion. “I recommend unto you Phœbe, our sister,”
says the misogynous St. Paul himself (Romans xvi), “for she hath been a
succourer of many and of myself also. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my
helpers in Christ Jesus; who have for my life laid down their own
necks.”

It is, indeed, doubtful whether Christianity would ever have been
established but for the courage and companionship of women. I feel sure
they tidied up the catacombs and gave a feeling of home to the crypts
and caves. “It was the women who spread Christianity in the family,”
says Harnack. St. Augustine’s father was a heathen; it was his mother,
Monica, who taught him to pray. The Virgin Martyr, like Santa Reparata
of Florence, or St. Catherine of Alexandria, is a stock figure of the
Roman calendar. As in all great movements, differences of station were
forgotten, and Blandine, the servant-girl of Lyons, played as majestic a
part as the royal-blooded St. Catherine, whose wheel of martyrdom finds
such quaint perpetuation as a firework.

Popular imagination added the Madonna to the Trinity as a sort of female
representative. In Tintoretto’s _Paradise_, as I have already noted, she
figures as authoritatively as the Christ, and in a picture at Vicenza,
attributed to Tiepolo, she stands on the world, crushing the snake with
her foot.

Her companions were usually divided in sex and united in glory. Luca
della Robbia, in his charming relief in the cathedral of Arezzo,
scrupulously places one male and one female saint on her either hand,
and even one male and female angel: doubtless had cherubs possessed sex
possibilities, his cherubs too would have been impartially distributed.
In the Accademia of Florence, Cimabue’s Madonna is entirely surrounded
by female saints, though a few males loom below her throne; Giotto’s
shows a female surplus; Bernardo Daddi’s redresses the balance. Fra
Angelico gives us _Jesus carried to the Tomb_ by nine women to four men.

Italian art is full of symmetrical paradises of sex-equality, and if a
church was decorated with male saints down one aisle, they would be
scrupulously balanced by female saints along the other. An old Byzantine
Basilica of Ravenna, which displays twenty-two virgins arrayed against
thirty saints of the dominant sex, first set me wondering whether, since
the Dark Ages, woman has not gone back in Christendom instead of
forward. Here at least was the atmosphere for the legend, if not for the
reality, of a Pope Joan, whereas at the period in which I first opened
my eyes upon the world and woman, she appears to have become reduced to
an absolute industrial dependence upon her lord like the
fifteenth-century chicken in Giambattista della Porta’s “Book of Natural
Magic.” For according to the delightful recipe (cited by Corvo) for
inducing affection towards you in a chicken, you must—before it has its
feathers—“break off its lower beak even to the jaw. Then, having not
the wherewithal to peck up food, it must come to its master to be fed.”

I might cite in proof of woman’s retrogression since the Dark Ages the
glorification of womanhood through “The Divine Comedy,” but the Italian
poet’s translation of life into literature is, I fear, no more legal
evidence of the real status of woman in the Middle Ages than her
chivalrous deification at the hands of the Germanic or Provençal poets
is a proof that she was treated even as an equal of her worshippers.
Dante’s unknown Beatrice sounds like a woman who was snubbed by her
husband and brothers. But Matilda, who plays second fiddle to her, and
who is equally drawn by Dante as a mild flower-culling “bella Donna” was
in reality the warrior Countess of Tuscany, and the fact that Dante
feminises and floralises her shows that he had no real respect for
feminine dominance in the actual shapes it took in life, and that he was
only prepared to idealise woman on condition of her conforming to his
ideal.

The scholars and commentators who have always been so puzzled at the
metamorphosis of Matilda have forgotten man’s tendency to break off
woman’s beak, whether in reality or in imagination. But even if Preger
be correct in identifying Dante’s Matilda, not with the armoured Amazon
of Tuscany, but with Mechtilde, the nun, whose mystic visions are the
flowers she culls, it remains true that Dante’s ideal was never the
“Virago,” a title of honour which was inscribed on her tomb, and which
even at the epoch of the Renaissance implied nothing but praise. The
word may serve to remind us that there is no sharp bisection of
qualities between the sexes.

Matilda was, in fact, a sufficient refutation in herself of the notion
that there is a rigid division between the qualities of men and women.
Such a difference as is implied does, indeed, exist, but it is between
men and men, and between women and women, as well as between men and
women, and the popular nomenclature, which calls certain women mannish
and certain men effeminate, recognises the possibility of deviation from
the normal. Indeed, considering that both parents affect their child,
the attempt to breed a special feminine psychology, immune from politics
and fighting, must be perpetually thwarted by the criss-cross action of
heredity, as upon the daughters of warriors and statesmen.
Matilda—sired by the Magnificent Monster, Boniface—was a man in ten
thousand. She led her own armies. She patronised learning and founded
the law schools of Bologna. If she kept her husbands in subjection,
casting off one after the other, she had none of the vices of the male
despot; indeed, her second marriage-contract stipulated only a sexless
union. There was nothing, indeed, except these vices in which she ranks
below the Magnificent Monsters who preceded her in the lordship of Lucca
or Lombardy. I must admit that the Countess of Tuscany fell under the
influence of her spiritual director (as the Male Magnificent falls under
the influence of his unspiritual directress), and that she used her
power, and her treasure, as it is feared women will, to bolster up the
Church; in fact, she, with her mother Beatrice, attended the Council of
Rome in 1074, at which investiture by lay hands was declared illegal,
and hers was the Castle of Canossa, to which Henry IV came to abase
himself before the Pope. And that dubious temporal power of the Pope’s
might not have come into such solid being had she not left her
possessions to the See of Rome, and thus practically founded the States
of the Church. This, of course, is the secret of her high position in
the earthly paradise of the Purgatory. But, after all, religious zeal is
not a female monopoly, and even Bloody Mary could not hold a candle to
Torquemada.

Catherine of Siena exercised an equally critical influence upon the
fortunes of the Papacy and upon European history when she persuaded
Gregory XI to move the Papal seat back from Avignon to Rome; a mission
in which Rienzi had failed a generation earlier. Catherine, for all her
ecstasies and self-scourgings, had far more common sense than the male
mystics.

It was in allowing for such divergences from the normal that the Dark
Ages surpassed our electric-lit era, whose logic confounds the optional
with the compulsory, and the individual with the general. It was not
pretended that every woman can or must be a warrior, but she who had
military genius was not debarred from developing it. It was not claimed
that every woman can or must be a saint, but St. Clara stood equal with
St. Francis, and St. Catherine of Siena with St. Dominic. And at the
Renaissance Boccaccio devotes a book to celebrated females, and
Michelangelo writes most humble love-sonnets to the poetess, Vittoria
Colonna (whose _Rime_ still sell, and who unlike Matilda stood for
religious reform). Vittoria’s noble classic head, especially as seen
helmeted in Michelangelo’s design, suggests a very Minerva, and from
various quarters we hear of the political woman, the learned woman, the
patroness of the arts, and the female physician, while at the foot of
the staircase of Padua University stands a statue of a lady Professor, a
happier Hypatia. I forget if this is Lucrezia Cornaro, who was made a
Doctor of this University and a member of so many learned societies
throughout Europe, but no enumeration of Italian heroines should omit
her brilliant ancestress, Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, whose court
at Asolo was one of the centres of the Renaissance.

“The education given to women in the upper classes,” says Burckhardt,
the learned historian of “The Renaissance in Italy,” “was essentially
the same as that given to men. . . . There was no question of ‘women’s
rights’ or female emancipation, because the thing in itself was a matter
of course. The educated woman no less than the man strove naturally
after a characteristic and complete individuality.”

When one remembers the struggle in nineteenth century England for the
higher education of women, and particularly the desperate resistance to
their studying and practising medicine, one realises the fallacy of
expecting melioration from the mere movement of time. There is no
automatic progress. What is automatic is retrogression, so that the
price even of stability is perpetual vigilance.

But what has St. Giulia, born at Carthage and crucified in Corsica, to
do with Brescia? I have already pointed out the free trade in saints, by
which they were liable to posthumous export. St. Giulia’s body was
transported from Corsica by Desiderio, a noble Brescian, who ascended
the Longobardian throne in 735. She was placed in the church dedicated
to St. Michael, the patron saint of the Longobardi, whom she ousted in
915, from which date the Church was known as St. Giulia’s. A Nunnery of
S. Giulia had existed from about 750, and remained in being for over a
thousand years, till its suppression in 1797 by the inevitable Napoleon.
Coryat, who visited it in 1608, describes it as having been in time past
“a receptacle of many royall Ladies.” It is now a Museum of Christian
Art, and there I saw St. Giulia depicted in sculpture by Giovanni Carra,
her figure nude to the waist and stretched on a real wooden cross with
real nails in her hands and feet. Alas for Christian Art!

To-day our St. Giulias, in revolt against a social order founded on
prostitution and sex-inequality, demand political rights as leverage for
a nobler society, and, despite the advice of kindly Rulers, they are as
ready as in the seventh century to be martyred for their faith, though
they have replaced the passivity of St. Giulia by measures of
aggression. Guariento foresaw the modern militant type when he drew
those charming female angels with red and gold shields and long lances,
and wings of green and gold, who stand on clouds—“suffragette” seraphs,
they seem to me. You may see a battalion of them in the Museo Civico of
Padua, filling a whole corridor, like a procession in the lobby at
Westminster. One of these fair warriors trails by a cord a black demon
with two quills like white horns, doubtless some literary Cabinet
Minister. Another weighs two souls on scales, and Female Suffrage does
indeed weigh men’s souls in the balance, to find them mostly wanting.
For of all forms of modern vulgarity, I deem nothing more dreadful than
the scoffing callousness towards the sufferings of the “Suffragettes.”
They are only self-inflicted, we are told, as if this was not their
supreme virtue. That in this age of blatant materialism women should
still show that they possess souls is wondrous comforting to the
idealist, tempted to believe that the fount of living waters had run
dry, and that Giulia’s only travels were now made by motor-car to smart
country houses.

There is nothing which at first sight seems more puzzling than the
wickedness of good people. For it has often been said that the truly
devout and respectable Christians are the very ones who would crucify
Christ afresh if he appeared again, as indeed Arnold of Brescia, who had
a touch of his spirit, was crucified by Emperor, Pope, and Church. And
St. Bernard, the inspirer of the Second Crusade to recover the dead
bones of Christ, played a leading part in hounding him down, as the
Franciscans played a leading part in hounding down Savonarola.

Now why was St. Bernard—that _santo sene_ who was chosen by Dante to
induct him into the last splendours of the Paradise, and whose noble
hymns to Jesus still edify the faithful—so blind to the divine aspects
of his victim? And why is it that the citizens of Ferrara, whose
excellent statue and eloquent tribute to their illustrious townsman
Savonarola faced my hotel window, could not be trusted not to stone
their next prophet in a cruder sense of the words?

A converse question will conduct us to the answer. Why is the hooligan
in the gallery of the theatre ever the chief friend of virtue? Why is
the wife-bruiser the most fervid applauder of the domestic sentiment?
Because the man in the gallery looks down on the tangle of life like the
god his name implies: he sees it in as clear perspective as the aeronaut
sees the network of alleys through which the pedestrian blunders; the
plot is straightened out for him, the villain duly coloured, virtue in
distress plainly marked by beauty and white muslin, and through no mists
of prejudice or interest or passion he beholds the great outlines of
right and wrong. ’Tis to the credit of human nature that, confronted
with the bare elementals of ethics, and freed from egoistic bias, the
human conscience, even the conscience most distorted in life, reacts
accurately and returns a correct verdict with the unfailingness of a
machine. This it is that preserves the self-respect of the blackest of
us, this capacity of ours for seeing our neighbours’ sins, which is the
chief bulwark of public virtue. Wherefore, could St. Bernard have seen
Arnold of Brescia as history sees him, or as a dramatist of insight
would have drawn him, St. Bernard would have been the first to be
horrified at St. Bernard’s behaviour. But a Saint, no more than a
hooligan, is free from passions, interests, and prejudices of his own,
especially an ecclesiast and a theologian and a founder of monasteries.
Wilful and obstinate as are all the saints of my acquaintance, the most
domineering are the clerical. For all St. Bernard’s genius and holiness,
he could not endure a rival point of view. By him, and not by this
interloping Italian monk, this pupil of the critical Abélard, must the
world be turned to righteousness; nay the heresies of Abélard
himself—“who raves not reasons”—must be condemned by the Council of
Sens.

St. Bernard, if he lived to-day, would write the life of Arnold of
Brescia with holy horror at his tragic fate, and to-morrow, when the
passions and mists of to-day are cleared away, some future Asquith will
find a fresh stimulus to rebellion against the Peers in the noble
sufferings of some St. Giulia of the Suffrage.



               ICY ITALY: WITH VENICE RISING FROM THE SEA


                                   I

_Peccavi._ I have painted Italy, as others use, in sun-colour solely. My
pen has been heliographic. That were worthy of the tourist who knows
Italy only in her halcyon season. ’Tis the obsession of the alliterative
image of the Sunny South, overriding one’s historic memories—stories of
the Po frozen over from November to April, of penitents standing
barefoot in the snow, bitter adventures of mediæval brides brought
tediously to their lords across icy, wind-swept ways in a sort of Irish
honeymoon in the days before trains _de luxe_; nay, this Platonic
concept swamps even the Aristotelian experience. For I have seen
Florence in a London fog and Venice in a Siberian snowfall. I have seen
St. Mark’s Square turned into a steppe, without pigeons, without
pleasure-pilgrims, snow-muffled, immaculate, bleak, given over to
raw-knuckled scrapers and shovellers, knee-deep in crumbling hummocks,
or pushing snow-heaped wheelbarrows towards the providential water-ways,
the snow-crusted Campanile towering over the desolate glacial plain like
the North Pole of childish fancy. Yea, and on the water-ways floated—O
horror of desecration—white gondolas! Nature, like some vulgar
millionaire, had defied the sumptuary edict consecrated by immemorial
tradition, and, amazed as the Australian pioneer who first beheld black
swans, I watched these white gondolas gliding along the swollen canals.
And I recall Bologna in a blizzard—a snowfall so persistent that it
closed the Pinacoteca by the curious method of solidly overlaying the
skylight of the main Gallery and rendering the pictures invisible. It
was a _festa_ for the janitors, a holiday fallen from heaven. In the
Piazza Nettuno the big fountain was snowed over, and the cab-drivers sat
under great hoary umbrellas that had hitherto been green, their cabs
looking like frosted cakes. A white hearse passed still whiter. The snow
slashed its way even under the colonnades, and formed a slippery coating
of ice on their pavements. Bran, scattered copiously in these arcades
and at all the street-crossings, maintained a feeble colour-fight
against the all-pervading white.

There is an icy Italy more boreal than Britain, inasmuch as less
equipped against winter. For the native, too, partakes of the Platonic
fallacy, and because his cold season is briefer than his warm, and oft
infused with a quickening radiance, he shrugs it out of existence,
especially when Carnival invites to _al fresco_ conviviality. The
beggar, indeed, recognises the winter, as becomes a practical
professional man, and squats at the church-porch with his private pan of
burning charcoal; but the more irresponsible burgher, with his stone
floors, and his stoveless, chimneyless rooms, treats winter as an annual
exception, calling for improvised measures. He is an æstival animal that
builds for the summer, though his brigand-cloak, whose left fold is so
sardonically thrown over his right shoulder, betrays to the scientific
observer its prosaic origin as the throat-protector of an Arctic
creature. Of late, under the pressure of foreign finance, the better
hotels have veined themselves with steam-pipes. But the steam rises
late, and the pipes are only hot when the guest has departed.

Never have I seen the pretence of perpetual summer carried further than
at Rimini, where in a blinding snowstorm, when every narrow archaic
street was bordered with four-foot mounds of dirty snow, and the traffic
was limited to donkey-carts dragging snow through the Porta Aurea to
pitch it into the river, the congealing cabmen sat all day on their
powdered boxes cheerfully crying in competitive chorus—every time they
caught a glimpse of me—“To San Marino? To San Marino?” That little
Republic—one of the last political curios left, like a fly in amber, in
modern Europe—is a drive of many hours, even when “the white road to
Rimini” is a shimmering sun-path, yet there was no suspicion of
pleasantry in the cabmen’s eagerness to crawl through the niveous
morass. They seriously expected me to set forth on this summer
expedition, with at most the carriage closed against the driving flakes.
It sorted better with my humour to plough afoot over the muffled
Boulevard to the new Rimini which has grown out of the old rotting
Rimini of Cæsar and the Malatestas.

For there is a sham Rimini as well as a real Rimini—one of those
toadstools of cities which flourish so rankly in our century of comfort.
This is the Lido—an Italian Ostend, sacred to modern villas, mammoth
hotels, bathing establishments, restaurants, the surgy shore tamed into
a Parade for parasols. There is a staring, many-windowed, many-balconied
Grand Hotel, crowned by two baroque domes, with busts on its façade and
vases at its corners tapering up into rods. There is a little
Lawn-Tennis Club-Bar and a big Casino, with a restaurant terrace back
and front. There are pretentious _Palazzini_. There is a huddle of
flaring houses, recalling the grotesque “new architecture” of Madrid,
and a large uncouth hydropathic establishment in terra-cotta, and a long
row of green bathing-huts.

Perhaps the profoundest observation of Dickens in Italy was that the
marvellous quartette of buildings outside the life of Pisa—the
Cathedral, the Campo Santo, the Baptistery, and the leaning Tower—is
like the architectural essence of a rich old city, filtered from its
prosaic necessities. Of the Lido of Rimini (and of its likes) it may be
said that they are the architectural essence of a rich new city,
filtered of all spiritual and poetical values.

But the Lido I saw was purged of all this vulgarity, buried under
stainless snow, which lay deep and virgin over every street and grassy
space, and shrouded every flaunting structure in primeval purity. The
Parade was blotted out, restored to Nature, and deep drifts of snow
defended it from re-invasion. The Casino lay forsaken, wrapped in the
same soft spotless mantle, the dual stone steps leading to its twin
drinking-terraces transformed into frozen cascades, its central gates
uselessly guarded by blanched barbed wire. Desolate was even the great
garage, with its cheap fresco of our modern goddess in the car, her
flamboyant robe turned ermine. Beyond the buried Parade, the Adriatic
rolled in sullenly, scarce visible save by a gleaming line of surf that
lit up a narrow riband of its foreground; all but the breaking wave was
hidden by a wild whirl of flakes that misted sea and sky into a grey
nullity. Throughout the whole pleasure-city not a dog prowled nor a cat
slunk nor a bird fluttered; not a footstep profaned the splendour of its
snow. Its myriad casement-eyes were closed in heavy sleep; not a shutter
open, not a blind raised. It was a city hibernating like some monstrous
Polar animal. Not a few pleasure-cities thus abate their vitality in the
winter, but so absolute a dormitation I have never witnessed. It seemed
incredible that with the Spring it would stir in its sleep, it would
shake the snow off its lubberly limbs, loose its gay swarm of
butterfly-parasols. How could that frost-bound terrace ever ring again
with the clink of glasses and the tinkle of laughter? How could bathers
ever again lie basking on that frigid strand? No, it was a dead city I
saw, a city overwhelmed by a new ice-age. And the seas and lands that
radiated from this snowy centre were freezing too, as science had
foretold; swiftly the deadly chill was spreading through every vein and
artery of the nipped earth, curdling its springs and coagulating its
vast oceans and crusting over even its petty oases of continents with
thick-ribbed ice in which a rare microscopic rotifer alone preserved a
germ of vitality. The Arctic and Antarctic zones expanded towards each
other, like two blind walls closing in on life, and with a clash of
giant icebergs in a biting equatorial blast, the last rift of green
earth and blue water was blotted out. And now the globe was spinning
again in a glacial void, as unconscious of the absence of its
skin-parasites as it had been of their presence. Fated for fresh
adventures and new cosmic combinations, the planet rolled its impassive
whiteness through the dumb heavens. But mortals had put on mortality,
and of all the haughty hopes and splendid dreams of man there remained
zero. Earth, his cradle and his pasture, was become his frigidarium and
his cemetery, and the snow fell silently over the few faint traces of
his passing. His million, million tears had been frozen into a few
icicles.


                                   II

And there is an ugly Italy, an Italy veiled by the blue heaven, but
revealing itself under sullen sunless skies in all its naked
hideousness.

Nothing could be more unlike the popular conception of Italy than the
environs of the Carthusian Monastery of Pavia in mid-February. Slushy
roads about two yards wide, here and there encumbered with fragments of
brick and stone, and everywhere bordered by heaps of snow. By one side
of the road runs a narrow ice-bound irrigation canal, geometrically
straight, across which rises the high, bare, dreary endless wall of
blank brick surrounding the monastery. On the other hand stretch the
vast fields with leafless thin trees. It was of this region that Jehan
d’Auton wrote when Pavia was taken by the French: “Truly this is
Paradise upon earth.” Even allowing for the flowery meadows and running
springs of the end of the fifteenth century, the worthy Benedictine
could have found fairer Paradises nearer Paris. Much of Northern Italy
is still monotonous marshland. Over the bald brick wall of Mantua, nine
feet thick, that backs the Piazza sacred to Virgil, I gazed one morning
at a dismal swampy lake, a couple of barges, a factory chimney, and
spectral, leafless stumps of trees, the brownish soil of the lake
showing through the dead sullen water, a ghost of sun hovering over rows
of pollarded planes. Here, methought, had Virgil found a suggestion for
his Stygian marsh. I would not say a word against Mantua itself, which
is most lovable, with side-canals that might be Venetian, and
ever-flowing taps and old arches, arcades and buildings. But from Mantua
to Modena I saw naught but ugly brown grass over flat lands, with
pollarded elms and vines stretched from tree to tree. Here and there a
little canal relieved the dismal plain. Near Modena a few poplars
appeared. A team of lovely oxen drawing a cart gave the landscape its
one touch of beauty.

Rimini proper is picturesque enough, with its Porto Canale full of small
barques with tall masts. But between it and Ravenna, what desolation!
Outside the town the gaunt ruins of the Malatesta Castle—a bare wall
and a bare squarish rock—were the prelude to the same bare snowy
plains, the same little pollarded elms, varied by tall skeleton poplars.
Once a copse of firs, bowed down by snow, broke the white flatness. Near
Classe, famous for Sant’ Appolinare, the waste became even marshier,
sparse twigs of desolate shrubs alone peeping through the white blanket.
Nearer Ravenna a few signs of life appeared, a dead cottage, or a living
hovel, or a few spectral trees, or a brick bridge over an ice-laden
river. On such a light brown marsh specked with stagnant pools the
modern Italians have put up hoardings with advertisements of cognac. A
little further East their remote progenitors put up Venice!

Never was there so apparently hopeless a site as those islands of the
lagoons, preserved from malaria only by a faint pulse of the “tideless,
dolorous midland sea.” How so marvellous a city rose on the wooden piles
of the refugees, how out of so dire a necessity they made so rare a
beauty and so mighty a force, was always a puzzle to me till I read that
these fugitives before the Lombard Conquerors were Romans! Then it all
leapt into clearness. Venice is Rome in the key of water! The same
indomitable racial energy that had built up Rome and the Roman Empire
built up Venice and the Venetian Empire. Hunted from Padua, the Romans
are able to express themselves in water as powerfully as in earth—to
create a new empire in Italy and the East, and build a mighty fleet, and
crush the Turks, and hold the carrying trade of the world, and for six
centuries keep the Adriatic as a private lake. And in this new Empire
they are touched by the shimmering spell of water to new creations of
joyous colour on canvas, to fairy convolutions in marble, and a church
that rises as lightly as a sea-flower. For here all that is sternly
Roman

        “Doth suffer a sea-change
         Into something rich and strange.”

But let us not forget that despite her seven hills Rome also began as a
pile-village, and that the Campagna is of the same marshy character as
the soil around Venice. I have more faith in Goethe’s intuition that
Rome was built up by herdsmen and a rabble than in the thesis, expounded
by Guglielmo Ferrero at Rome’s last birthday celebration, that it was
the carefully chosen site of a colony from Alba, with Romulus and Remus
in their traditional rôles. For though her seven hills enabled Rome to
keep her head above water, they did not enable her to keep her feet dry.
The Forum Augusti was anciently swamp and became a swamp again in the
Middle Ages, and once some earlier form of gondola plied between the
Capitol and the Palatine Hill. Thus the races who hailed from Rome had
water in their blood, and the instinct to build on piles. It is a
strange instinct which races have preserved and obeyed—in the foolish
human fashion—even on land that was high and dry. What wonder if it
survived in latency in these ex-Romans! Yes, Venice was Rome in the key
of water, as Rome was Venice in the key of earth. And the Roman
Church—is she not Rome in the key of heaven? Is it not always the same
racial mastery that confronts us, the same instinct for dominance? Does
the Church not hold the after-world as Rome held the ancient world, does
she not own the lake of fire as the Doges owned the Adriatic? Drive Rome
from her throne on the hills and she builds up her pedestal again on
sea-soaked piles: hound her from the lagoons, and of a few acres around
the piazza of St. Peter she makes the seat of a sovereignty even more
boundless and majestic.

Hardly had I written this when I opened by hazard my first edition of
Byron’s “The Two Foscari” (1821), and was startled to read in his
appendix as follows: “In Lady Morgan’s fearless and excellent work upon
‘Italy’ I perceive the expression of ‘Rome of the Ocean’ applied to
Venice. The same phrase occurs in ‘The Two Foscari.’ My publisher can
vouch for me that the tragedy was written and sent to England some time
before I had seen Lady Morgan’s work, which I only received on the 16th
of August. I hasten, however, to notice the coincidence and to yield the
originality of the phrase to her who first placed it before the public.”
Byron goes on to explain that he is the more anxious to do this because
the Grub Street hacks accuse him of plagiarism. But turning to the
tragedy itself, I find that Byron has rather plagiarised _me_ than the
admirable “Gloriana,” for her phrase might be a mere metaphor, whereas
Marina observes explicitly:

        “And yet you see how from their banishment
         Before the Tartar into these salt isles,
         Their antique energy of mind, all that
         Remain’d of Rome for their inheritance,
         Created by degrees an ocean-Rome.”

But Byron’s over-anxiety to disavow originality was due to the morbid
state of mind induced by the aforesaid hacks, one of whom had even
accused him of having “received five hundred pounds for writing
advertisements for Day and Martin’s patent blacking.”

“That accusation,” says Byron, “is the highest compliment to my literary
powers which I ever received.” I can only say the same of Byron’s
plagiarism from myself.

But Byron need not have been so apologetic to Lady Morgan, for ’twas the
very boast of Venice to be “the legitimate heir of Rome,” whose Empire
Doge Dandolo re-established in that Nova Roma of Constantinople with
whose art and architecture her own is so delectably crossed.



                           THE DYING CARNIVAL


Carnival! What a whirling word! What a vision of masks and gaiety,
militant flowers and confetti! Not farewell to meat, but hail to
merriment! Never, in sooth, does Italy show so earthly as when, bidding
adieu to the flesh and the world, she enters into the contemplation of
the tragic mystery of the self-sacrifice of God. And yet in this
grossness of popular rejoicing lies more faith than in the frigid
pieties of the established English Church. Even the brutalities and
Jew-baitings that marked the old Roman carnival, even the profane
parodies of the Mass, sprang from a naïve vividness of belief. Parody is
merely the obverse side of reverence, and ’tis only when you do not
believe in your God that you dare not make fun of Him or with Him. The
gargoyled gutter is as characteristic of the cathedral as the mystic
rose-window. Our revivals of miracle plays are performed in an
atmosphere of glacial awe, which was by no means the atmosphere of their
birth. This sort of reverence is too often faith fallen to
freezing-point. We remove our sense of humour as we take off our
slippers at alien mosques.

It was when faith was at its full—near the year 1000—and in connection
with the Christmas season, that the Patriarch of Constantinople
instituted the Feast of Fools and the Feast of the Ass, travestying the
most sacred persons and offices. The Lord of Misrule is no heathen
deity, but a most Christian majesty; and King Carnival is the spiritual
successor of the old King of Saturnalia, whether Frazer be correct or
not in attributing to him the direct succession. For the truly religious
the carnival is necessary to the sanity of things. It is an expression
of the breadth and complexity of the Cosmos, which would otherwise be
missing from the Easter ritual. The God of the grotesque is as real as
the God of Gethsemane and the Cosmos cannot be stretched on a crucifix.
It bulges too oddly for that. And it is this grotesque side of life that
finds quasi-religious expression in the Carnival processions, with their
monsters known and unknown to Nature, with their fanciful hybrids and
quaint permutations of the elements of reality. Humanity herein records
its joyous satisfaction and sympathy with that freakish mood of Nature
which produced the ornithorhynchus and the elephant, and shaped to
uncouthness, instead of to symmetry and beauty. Alas! I fear humanity is
only too acquiescent in these deviations of the great mother into the
grotesque; the folk-spirit runs more fluently to gross pleasantry and
comic tawdriness than to the Beautiful, and many a Carnival procession
is a nightmare of concentrated ugliness.

The suspicion takes me that our St. Valentine’s Day, so dominatingly
devoted to grotesque caricature, and so coincident with the Carnival
period, is really the Catholic Carnival in another guise and that
prudish Protestantism has entertained the devil unawares.

But the Carnival—like St. Valentine’s Day—is dying. It is more alive
in the ex-Italian Riviera than in Italy proper. I have a memory of a
Carnival at Siena which consisted mainly of one imperturbable
merry-maker stumping with giant wooden boots through the stony alleys. A
Carnival at Modena has left even less trace—some dim sense of more
crowded streets with a rare mask. At Mantua, too, there was no set
procession—children in fancy dress, with a few adult masqueraders,
alone paid fealty to the season. At Bologna the last night of Carnival
was almost vivacious, and in the sleety colonnades branching off from
the Via Ugo Bassi there was quite a dense crowd of promenaders defying
the bitter wind, while muffled groups, with their coat-collars up, sat
drinking at the little tables. There were some children, fantastically
pranked, attended by prosaic mothers, there was a small percentage of
masked faces, while a truly gallant cavalier (escorting a dame in a
domino) paraded his white stockings, that looked icy, across the snowy
roads. No confetti, and only an infrequent scream of hilarity. That the
old plaster missiles, with other crudities, have disappeared, is indeed
no cause for lamentation, but a Carnival without confetti is like an
omelette without eggs.

Well might a writer in the local paper, _Il Resto del Carlino_, lament
the brave days of old when a vast array of carriages and masks coursed
through the Via S. Mamolo, and the last days of the Carnival were marked
by jousts and tourneys, and tiltings at the quintain, with a queen of
beauty in white satin and magnificent masqueraders showering flowers,
fruits, and perfumes, and nymphs carrying Cupid tied hand and foot.

In Cremona I made trial of a _Veglione_ whose allurements had been
placarded for days. A _Trionfo di Diana_, heralded in large letters,
peculiarly suggested pomp and revelry. And indeed I found a theatre
almost as large as La Scala, illumined by a dazzling chandelier, with
four tiers of boxes resplendent with the shoulders of women and the
shirt fronts of men—tiaras, uniforms, orders, all the spectacular
social sublime. I had not imagined that obscure Cremona—no longer
famous, even for violins—held these glittering possibilities, and it
set me to the analysis that Italian theatres—above the _platea_—are
all shop-front, making a brave show of a shallow audience, for the
encouragement of the actors and its own gratification, instead of
obscuring and dissipating it over back benches.

The stage and the _platea_ had been united by an isthmus of steps and in
an enclosure sat a full orchestra. Around the musicians danced men in
evening-dress and a few ladies in masks, most of whom, notwithstanding
the superabundance of males, preferred to dance with their own sex. This
was largely what the spectators had come out for to see, and the
disproportion of the dancers to the wilderness of onlookers was the only
comic feature of this Carnival Ball. True, a few clownish figures
clothed in green and wearing little basket hats improvised mild romps on
the stage, and occasionally from the unexpected vantage of a box shouted
down some facetious remark, but there was no unction in them, nay not
even when they capped the joke by clapping large baskets on their heads.
However, the _Trionfo di Diana_ still remained to account for the vast
audience, and there came a moment when an electric thrill ran through
the packed theatre, the dancing ceased, and the dancers ranged
themselves, looking eagerly towards the doors. After a period of tense
expectation, there came slowly up the _platea_ a few huntsmen with live
dogs and stuffed hawks, and one melancholy horn that gave a few
spasmodic single toots, whereupon appeared Diana in a scanty white robe,
recumbent on a floral car of foliage and roses, drawn by six hounds, one
of which alone rose to the humour of the occasion, and by his inability
to remain on his own side of the shaft achieved a rare ripple of
laughter, while the applause that followed his adjustment brought quite
a wave of warmth. But the chill fell afresh, as the procession, after a
cheerless turn or two on the stage, made its exit as tamely as a spent
squib. A paltrier spectacle was never seen in a penny show.

A runner, accompanied by a cyclist, who pumped him up with his pump,
made a fresh onslaught upon our sense of fun, but when he too trailed
off equally into nothingness, I quitted the dazzling midnight scene,
leaving the beauty and fashion of Cremona to its Carnival dissipations.

Yes, the Italian Carnival is dying. Unregretted, adds the Anglo-French
paper that serves the select circles of Rome. For it is only the
Carnival of the streets that is passing, this genteel authority tells us
reassuringly. “A far more glorious Carnival is replacing it. In the
grand cosmopolitan hotels _fête_ succeeds _fête_.”

Alas, so even the Carnival has passed over to the Magnificent Ones, who
not content with annexing the best things in their own lands sail under
their pirate flag in quest of the spoils of every other, moving from
Rome to Switzerland, from Ascot to Cairo, with the movement of Sport or
the Sun. What a change from the days of the Roman Fathers, when religion
circled round one’s own hearth, and exile was practically
excommunication! The mother-land is no longer a mother but a mistress,
to be visited only for pleasure, and every other land is only another
odalisque, devoid of sanctities, ministress to appetites. The
Magnificent Ones of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance at least stayed
at home and minded their serfs and their business: our modern
Magnificent Ones go abroad, make new serfs everywhere, and mind only
their pleasures. And hence it is that the _festa_ of the Carnival whose
only _raison d’être_ was religious, whose only justification was its
spontaneity, is to be annexed by the Magnificent Mob, ever in search of
new pretexts for new clothes and new vulgarities. The froth of pleasure
is to be skimmed off, and the cup of seriousness thrown away. The
joyousness that ushers in Lent is to be torn from its context as the
fine feathers are torn from a bird, to flutter on the hat of a
demi-mondaine. The grand cosmopolitan hotels with the grand cosmopolitan
rabble will usher in with grand cosmopolitan dances the period of prayer
and fasting, and the dying Carnival will achieve resurrection.



           NAPOLEON AND BYRON IN ITALY: OR LETTERS AND ACTION


                                   I

As I creep humbly through this proud and prodigious Italy, peeping into
palaces and passing yearningly before masterpieces, to the maddening
chatter of concierges and sacristans, I am constantly stumbling upon the
footsteps of him who made the grand tour in the high sense of the words.
Not the British heir of bygone centuries with his mentor and his letters
of introduction, not even his noble father with the family coach. No,
these were pigmies little taller than myself. Your sublime tourist was
Napoleon, who strode over the holy land of Beauty like a Brobdingnagian
over Lilliput. He came, he saw, he commanded. He looked at a picture, a
pillar, a statue—and despatched it to France. He gazed at Lombard’s
iron crown—and put it on. He beheld Milan Cathedral—and it became the
scene of his coronation, with blessing of clergy and the old feudal
homage. He perceived an ornate ducal bed—and slept in it, the poor duke
a-cold. He rode through the ancient streets, not Baedeker but cocked hat
in hand, graciously acknowledging the loyal cheers of the ancient stock.
He examined the Sacro Catino in Genoa Cathedral and bore it off with its
precious blood; he espied the rich treasure of Loreto, and lo! it was
his; he saw Lucca that it was fair, and it became his sister Elisa’s. He
visited Venice—and wound up the Republic. He admired St. Mark’s—and
haled its bronze horses to Paris, transferring to it the Patriarchate as
in compensation. The Patriarchal Palace itself he turned into barracks;
superfluous monasteries and churches were shut up and their lands
confiscated. He even destroyed, doubtless in the same righteous
indignation, the lion’s head over “the lion’s mouth” in the Palace of
the Doges, while the _Bucentaur_, their gorgeous galley, he burnt to
extract the gold.

But he was not merely destructive and rapacious. The founder of the Code
Napoléon repaired the amphitheatre of Verona, and resumed the neglected
building of the façade of Milan Cathedral, and opened up the Simplon
route to Italy, and marked its terminus by the Triumphal Arch of Milan.
He surveyed the harbour of Spezia for a war-harbour and projected to
drain Lake Trasimeno away—conceptions which to-day are realities. And
all this and a hundred other feats of construction in the
breathing-spaces of his Titanic single-handed fight against embattled
Europe. Not seldom, as I passed my wood-shop in Venice, with its
caligraphic placard _All’ Ingrosso e al Minuto_, did I think of the
Corsican superman, with his wholesale and retail dealings with the
little breed of mankind. Perhaps to establish “the Kingdom of Italy,”
with twenty-four departments and his step-son as viceroy, and to turn
the little district of Bassano into a duchy for his secretary were, to
Napoleon, feats of the same apparent calibre. Even so we stride as
carelessly over a brooklet as over a puddle. Surely there is a
fascinating book to be written on Napoleon in Italy, as a change from
the countless Napoleons in St. Helena or the flood of foolish volumes
upon his mistresses.

And a final appraisement of Napoleon still remains to seek. The little
fat man who had “the genius to be loved”—except by Joséphine and Marie
Louise—and who provided for his family by distributing thrones, has
long since ceased to be the ogre with whom British babes were frighted,
though he has not yet become Heine’s divine being done to death by
British Philistinism. Carlyle classed him among his “Heroes” and
credited him with insight because, when those around him proved there
was no God, he looked up at the stars and asked, “Who made all that?”
But this was surely no index of profundity—merely a theism of Pure
Reason and an illustration of Napoleon’s peculiar interest in _action_.
“Who _made_ all that?” Making, doing, that was his essential
secret—unresting activity, rapid striking, utilisation of every moment.
He was as alert the moment after victory as others after defeat. Was one
combination destroyed, his nimble and exhaustless energy instantly
fashioned an alternative. Mobility of brain and immobility of
soul—these were his gifts in a crisis. When all was lost and himself a
captive, “What is the use of grumbling?” he asked his attendants.
“Nothing can be _done_.” The tragedy of Napoleon was thus the obverse of
the tragedy of Hamlet, whose burden lay precisely in there being
something to be done. Imagine the great demiurge at work in these days
of telegraphy and steam, motor-cars and aeroplanes. What might he not
have achieved! As it was, he just missed creating the United States of
Europe. Anatole France accuses him of having taken soldiers too
seriously. As well accuse an engineer of taking cranes and levers too
seriously. Soldiers were the indispensable instruments by which Napoleon
raised himself to the level of those more commonplace rulers of Europe
who had found their cradles suspended on the heights. It is the German
Emperor who takes soldiers too seriously, who marshals them with the
solemnity of a child playing with his wooden regiments. And the Kaiser,
already in the purple, has not Napoleon’s excuse. His is simply a false
and reactionary view of life, as of a house-maid who adores uniforms.
But Napoleon would have played his Machiavellian game equally with
grocers; and, indeed, his lifelong ambition to sap British commerce was
conceived in the spirit of a Titanic tradesman, who knows better than to
count corpses. He was the fifteenth-century condottiere magnified many
diameters, playing with countries and nations instead of with towns and
tribes, and sweeping in his winnings across the green table of earth as
in some game of the gods. As a Messiah of Pure Reason, an Apostle of the
People, he was able, like Mohammed, to back the Word with the Sword,
and, less veracious than the prophet of the desert, to combine for the
making of History its two great factors of Force and Fraud. Through him,
accordingly, History made a leap, proceeding by earthquake and
catastrophe instead of by patient cumulation and attrition. He was a
cosmic force—a force of Nature, as he truthfully claimed—a _terremoto_
that tumbled the stagnant old order about the ears of Courts and
Churches.

True, after the earthquake the old slow, stubborn forces reassert
themselves; but the configuration of the land has been irrevocably
changed. The _Maya_, the illusion of Royalty, comes slowly back, for it
is a world of unreason, and even Bismarck believed in the divine right
of the princes he despised. But the feudal order throughout Europe will
never wholly recover from the shock of Napoleon. Unfortunately, from a
Messiah he glided into a Magnificent One, and the marriage with Marie
Louise, at first perhaps a mere cold-blooded chess-move to establish his
dynasty, subtly reduced him into accepting Royalty at its own and the
popular valuation. He had married beneath him, and Nemesis followed. The
dyer’s hand was subdued to that it worked in, and Napoleon sank into a
snob. His true Waterloo was spiritual. The actual Waterloo was a moral
victory.

Had he remained representative of the Republican or any other principle,
exile would have had no power over him; on the contrary, it would have
aggrandised his influence. But his exile represented nothing but the
moping of a banished Magnificent, so that a generous spirit like Byron
could find in his “Ode to Napoleon,” no words too excoriating for this
fallen meanness.

And while Napoleon pined in St. Helena, Marie Louise found promotion as
Duchess of Parma, becoming her own mistress instead of the world’s, and
finding husbands nearer down to her own level than the Corsican
ex-corporal. Quite happy she must have been, sitting on her throne under
a great red baldachino, giving audience, surrounded by her suite and her
soldiers—as Antonio Pock painted her—or smothered in diamonds at neck,
waist, earrings and hair, smirking in a low-necked dress at her crimson
and jewelled crown, as in the picture of Gian Battisti Borghesi. Parma
preserves both these portraits, but they are not so quaint a deposit of
the great Napoleonic wave as Canova’s bust of Marie Louise as Concord!

There is in Milan a queer museum called “The Gallery of Knowledge and
Study,” the collection of which was begun by a “Noble Milanese,” and the
first catalogue of which was published in Latin in 1666. Here, amid
sea-shells, miniatures, old maps, pottery, bronzes, silkworm analyses,
and old round mirrors in great square frames, may now be seen a pair of
yellow gloves which once covered the iron hands, together with the
cobbler’s measure of that foot which once stamped on the world. There is
an air of coquetry about the pointed toe. A captain’s brevet, signed by
the “First Consul” and headed “French Republic,” serves as a reminder of
the earlier phase. The humour of museums has placed these relics in a
case with those of other “illustrious men”—to wit, two Popes and St.
Carlo, the dominant saint of the district (who is just celebrating his
tercentenary).

But the Triumphal Arch remains Napoleon’s chief monument at Milan,
though it is become a sort of Vicar of Bray in stone. For when Napoleon
fell, the Austrian Emperor replaced the chronicle of French victories by
bas-reliefs of defeats, and re-christened it an Arch of Peace. And when
in turn Lombardy was liberated by Victor Emmanuel, new inscriptions
converted it into an Arch of Freedom. One can imagine the stone singing,
like the Temple of Memnon at sunrise:

        “But whatsoever king shall reign,
         Still _I_’ll be the Arch of Triumph.”

And in Ferrara there is a Triumphal Column no less inconstant. Designed
to support the statue of Duke Ercole I, it was annexed by Pope Alexander
VII, who was deposed by Napoleon, whose statue has now been replaced by
Ariosto’s. Whether the ducal-papal-military-poetic pillar supports its
ultimate statue, we may doubt, though a poet seems less obnoxious to
political passion than the other sorts of hero.

Such mutations in the significance of monuments, however they deface and
blur history, are not unnatural amid the vicissitudes of Italy: and,
after all, an arch or a pillar is but an arch or a pillar.

But even a statue that keeps its place is not safe from supersession. In
Rimini in 1614 the Commune, grateful to the Pope (Paolo V), commemorated
him in bronze in the beautiful Piazza of the Fountain, the Fountain
whose harmonious fall pleased the ear of Leonardo da Vinci. The monument
is elaborate and handsome, with bas-reliefs in the seat and in the Papal
mantle, showing in one place the city in perspective. But during the
Cisalpine Republic, thanks again to Napoleon, no Pope could keep his
place in Rimini, and as the simplest way of preserving him on this
favoured site, the municipality erased his epitaph and re-christened him
Saint Gaudenzo. Gaudenzo was the martyr Bishop of Rimini, the Protector
of the City. This unearned increment was not the Saint’s first, for the
Church of S. Gaudenzo had been erected on the basis of a Temple of Jove.
To annex the glories of both Jove and Pope is indeed a singular fortune,
even in the ironic changes and chances we call history. But Napoleon, in
the days when he ordered the Temple of Malatesta to be the Cathedral of
Rimini, was annexing even the functions of both Pope and Jove. For he
was also rearranging Europe after Austerlitz and giving the quietus to
the Holy Roman Empire.


                                   II

Only second to the impact of Napoleon on Europe was the impact of Byron.
’Tis Cæsar and Hamlet in contemporary antithesis, for Professor Minto
has well said that Byron played Hamlet with the world for his stage.
While Byron was soliloquising with his pen, Napoleon was energising with
his sword, and whether the pen was really the mightier of the twain is a
nice thesis for debating societies. But in Italy, and by the greatest
modern Italian poet, Byron has been acclaimed as a man of action. In my
hotel in Bologna the landlord had piously—or with an eye to
custom—suspended a tablet, commissioned from Carducci, whereof a
translation would run as follows:

                                 “Here
                      In August and September 1819
                                 Lodged
                       And Conspired for Liberty
                       George Gordon, Lord Byron,
                      Who Gave to Greece His Life,
                     To Italy His Heart and Talent,
                                Than Who
                None Arose Among The Moderns More Potent
                    To Accompany Poetry With Action,
                       None More Piously Inclined
                   To Sing The Glories and Adventures
                            Of our People.”

An epigraph, I fear, involving some poetic licence. True, of course,
that no modern poet’s life or work, save Browning’s, is so
interpenetrated with Italy. But Byron’s amateur relation with the futile
Italian conspirators of the generation before Garibaldi was a somewhat
shadowy contact with action, however generous his impatient ardour for
Italy’s resurrection. Vaporous, too, was the conspiracy of “The Liberal”
to pour new wine into the old British beer-bottle. But even his
membership of the Greek committee or the equipment of a bellicose brig
against Turkey, or his abortive appointment as Commander-in-Chief in an
expedition against Lepanto, scarcely brings Byron into the category of
men of action. He had never the chance of sloughing Hamlet for Cæsar or
even for the Corsair. It was not even given him to die in battle, as he
so ardently desired in the last verse of his last poem. And though his
Hellenic fervour redeemed his closing days from despair and degradation,
still the fever which slew him at Missolonghi hardly warrants the claim
that he gave his life for Greece. Had his microbe met him in marshy
Ravenna instead of marshy Missolonghi, would it have been said that he
died for Italy? For aught we know his sea voyage from Genoa to Greece
may have lengthened his life.

Moreover it was as an ideologue that Byron plunged into affairs. For the
Greeks whom he set out to deliver figured in his mind as direct, if
degenerate, descendants of the great free spirits of old, the creators
of Hellenic culture: the reality was a priest-ridden population debased
by Slav stocks.

Byron had indeed an opulence of temperament which naturally spilt over
into action. Like Sir Walter Scott, he was larger than a writing man,
and he brought the Scott sanity rather than the Byronic ebullience into
his three months’ work at Missolonghi, holding himself aloof from
factions and thus reconciling them in him, throwing his weight on the
side of humanity, and even rising beyond his disappointment in the
Greeks to perceive that their very failings made their regeneration only
the more necessary. There was certainly in him the making of a leader of
men. Nevertheless cerebral ferment and not conspiring for liberty was
his essential form of activity. That cerebral ferment was never more
ebullient and continuous than in those years of Italy and the Countess
Guiccioli. Ravenna was his favourite town, and action is not precisely
the note of Ravenna at whose town-gate I read with my own eyes a
fabulous prohibition against vehicular traffic in the streets.

But did we concede Carducci’s claim to the full, and even supplement it
by Byron’s passing eagerness to mould British politics, the Italian
poet’s characterisation of him as the most striking modern instance of
the union of poetry and action, is a startling reminder of the poverty
and vacuousness of the chronicle of singing men of affairs. If Byron be
indeed Eclipse, truly the rest are nowhere. And the question arises, why
the modern man should be so artificially bifurcated. Æschylus was both
soldier and poet. Cæsar not only made history but wrote it. Dante was
Prior of Florence.

“In rebus publicis administrans,” says the inscription on the absurd
tomb of Ariosto, and we know that Duke Alfonso sent him to suppress
bands of robbers in lawless Garfagnana as well as on that even more
formidable expedition to the Terrible Pontiff who had excommunicated the
ruler of Ferrara. Chaucer was a diplomatist and Government Official. The
ethereal singer of “The Faerie Queene” shared in the bloody attempt at
the Pacification of Ireland. Milton, that virulent pamphleteer, barely
escaped the block. Goethe administered Weimar. Victor Hugo, like Dante,
achieved exile. Björnson contributed to the independence of Norway. The
notion of a poet as aloof from life seems to be largely modern and
peculiarly British. Shelley is probably responsible for this conception
of the “beautiful and ineffectual angel,” and in our own day Swinburne
has helped to carry on the legend. But Swinburne’s fellow-poet, the
self-styled “Singer of an empty day,” was precisely the poet who had the
largest relations with life, and whose wall-papers have spread to
circles where his poetry is unknown or unread.

You may say that Virgil, who was neither modern nor British, practised
the same attitude of detachment, the same exclusive self-consecration to
letters as Wordsworth or Tennyson. But Virgil had a people to express,
and Wordsworth and Tennyson were passionate politicians, if they made no
incursions into action proper. You may urge that the bards, skalds,
minstrels, troubadours, ballad-mongers, jongleurs, have always been a
class apart from action, but these were at least lauders of action,
laureates of lords, while even the _Minnesingers_ celebrated less their
own mistresses than those of the heroes. ’Tis a parasitism upon action,
to which indeed the meek and prostrate Kipling would confine the rôle of
letters.

But why should the power to feel and express the finer flavours of life
and language paralyse the capacity for action? In the sanest souls both
functions would co-exist in almost equal proportions. Sword in one hand
and trowel in the other, Ezra’s Jews rebuilt the Temple, and the new
Jerusalem will not rise till we can hold both trowel and tablet. In that
Platonic millennium poets must be kings and kings poets.

That fantastic, mutilated, myopic, and inefficient being, known as “the
practical man,” sniffs suspiciously at all movements that have thought
or imagination, or an ideal for their inspiration. It may be conceded to
this crippled soul that action can never take the rigid lines of theory,
and that the forces of deflection must modify, if not indeed prevail
over, the _à priori_ pattern. But he is not truly a thinker whose
thought cannot allow for these deviations in practice, which are as
foreseeable (if not as exactly computable) as the retardation,
acceleration or aberration of a planet by the pull of every other within
whose attraction it rolls. Action is not pure thought but applied
thinking—a species of engineering over, through, or around mountains,
and opposing private domains. “Life caricatures our concepts,” a dreamer
complained to me, after he had stepped down into politics. Is it not
perhaps that our concepts caricature life? Life is too fluid and
asymmetric to bear these fixed forms of constructive polity, and Lord
Acton tells us that in the whole course of history no such rounded
scheme has ever found fulfilment. I do not wonder.

But the poet who has never acted on the stage of affairs is moving in a
padded world of words, and the hero who has never sung, or at least
thrilled with the music in him, is only sub-human. The divorce of life
and letters tends to sterilise letters and to brutalise life. The
British mistrust of poetry in affairs has a solid basis—of stupidity.
Imagination, which is the essential factor in all science, is esteemed a
Jack o’ Lantern to lure astray. And to tap one’s way along, inch by
inch, without any light at all, is held the surest method of
progression.

But Italy, which has known Mazzini, is, I trust, for ever saved from
this Anglo-Saxon shallowness.

“A Revolution is the passing of an idea from theory into practice,” said
Mazzini. And again, “Those who sunder Thought and Action dismember God
and deny the eternal Unity of things.” _Pensiero e Azione_ was the
significant title of the journal he founded to bring about the
redemption of Italy. Garibaldi too was a dreamer, who even wrote poetry.
Cavour, the most worldly of the trio of Italian saviours, owes his
greatness precisely to the imagination which could use all means and all
men to educe the foreseen end.

A sharp distinction should be drawn between those who dream with their
eyes open, and those who dream with their eyes shut. What Cavour saw was
in congruity with fact and possibility. Prevision is not perversion. As
our modern watcher of the skies received the photograph of Halley’s
Comet upon his plate half a year before it became visible to the eye,
and months before it revealed itself to the farthest-piercing telescope,
so upon the sensitised soul coming events cast their configurations
before. This foresight of insight has naught in common with the
nightmares and chimæras of sleep. “The prophetic soul of the wide world
dreaming on things to come” admits the elect to glimpses of its dream.
These be the prophets, conduits through which the universe arrives at
self-consciousness, as the heroes are the conduits through which it
arrives at self-amelioration.



           THE CONSOLATIONS OF PHLEBOTOMY: A PARADOX AT PAVIA


In a room leading to the Senate in the Ducal Palace of Venice I was
looking at a picture by Contarini of the conquest of Verona by the
Venetians in 1405.

’Twas a farrago of fine confused painting, horses asprawl over the dead
and wounded, men in armour driving their daggers home in the prostrate
huddled forms, galloping chargers viciously spurred by helmeted knights
with swirling swords, in brief an orgie of wild and whirling devilry.
The pity of it, I thought, Verona and Venice, those two fairy sisters,
each magically enthroned on beauty, members of the same Venetia, peopled
with the same stock, speaking almost the same dialect, why must they be
at each other’s throat? And this revelry of devilry might, I knew,
equally serve for Venice’s conquest of any other of her neighbours in
that wonderful fighting fifteenth century of hers, when she must needs
set up her winged lion in every market place.

And these rivalries of Venice and her neighbour-towns, I recalled, were
only part of the universal urban warfare—Genoa against Pisa, Siena
against Florence, Gubbio against Perugia; these again breaking into
smaller circles of contention, or intersected with larger, party against
party, faction against faction, guild against guild, Guelph against
Ghibelline, Montague against Capulet, Oddi against Baglioni, _popolani_
against _grandi_, provinces against invaders, blood-feuds horrific,
innumerable, the Guelph-Ghibelline contest alone involving 7200
revolutions and 700 massacres in its three centuries! And yet there is a
reverse to the shield, and a iewelled scabbard to the sword.

I stood later in the Palazzo Malaspina of Pavia where, tradition says,
the imprisoned Boëthius composed “The Consolations of Philosophy,” and
here in a vestibule my eye was caught by a fragment of gilded gate hung
aloft, and running to read the explanatory inscription, I found it—in
translation—as follows:

               “These Remnants of the Old Gates of Pavia
                     Thrice Trophies in Civil Wars
              By a Magnanimous Thought Restored by Ravenna
                  Are To-day an Occasion for Rejoicing
                    Betwixt the Two Cities Desirous
              Of Changing the Vestiges of the Old Discords
                 Into Pledges of Union & Patriotic Love
                The XIII day of September MDCCCLXXVIII”

_Un magnanimo pensiero_, indeed! And—like the chains of Pisa’s ancient
harbour restored by Genoa—a pleasant sequel to the noble common
struggle for Italian independence. And yet—the _advocatus diaboli_
whispered me, or was it the shade of Boëthius in quest of “The
Consolations of Phlebotomy”?—“What has become of Pavia, what of
Ravenna, since they ceased to let each other’s blood? Where is the Pavia
of a hundred towers, where is the Castello reared and enriched by
generations of Visconti Dukes, and its University, once the finest in
Italy, at which Petrarch held a chair; where is the opulence of life
that flowed over into the Certosa, now arid in its mausolean
magnificence? Where is the Ravenna whose lawyers were as proverbial in
the eleventh century as Philadelphia’s are to-day, where is that hotbed
of heresy which nourished the great anti-Pope Guibert? Where is even the
Ravenna of Guido da Polenta, protector of Dante? Apt indeed to hold only
Dante’s tomb. And its young men who bawl out choruses of a Sunday night
till the small hours—do they even deserve the shrine of the poet of
Christendom? And Venice? And Verona? And the Rimini of the sixty
galleys? What have they gained from their colourless absorption into a
United Italy, compared with what they have lost—had indeed already
lost—of peculiar and passionate existence? Are there two gentlemen of
Verona now in whom we take a scintilla of interest? Is there a merchant
of Venice whose ventures concern us a jot? Is there a single Antonio
with argosies bound for Tripolis and the Indies?” “Your Ben Jonson,” and
by his wide posthumous reading I knew ’twas Boëthius speaking now, “said
‘in short measures life may perfect be.’ He should have said ‘in small
circles’ and, perhaps, ‘_only_ in small circles.’ All America—with its
vasty breadths—stands to-day without a single man of the first order.”

“’Tis not even”—put in the _advocatus diaboli_, betrayed by his
unphilosophic chuckle—“as if the destruction of small patriotisms meant
the destruction of war. Pavia and Ravenna,” he pointed out
mischievously, “must continue to fight—as part of the totality, Italy.
And behold,” quoth he, drawing my eyes towards the Piazza Castello, “the
significance of that old castle’s metamorphosis into a barrack—the
poetry of war turned to prose, the frescoes of the old Pavian and
Cremonese painters faded, perhaps even whitewashed over, and rough
Government soldiers drilling where the Dukes played pall-mall. Gone is
that rich concreteness of local strife, attenuated by its expansion into
a national animosity; not insubstantial indeed under stress of invasion,
but shadowy and unreal when the _casus belli_ is remote, and by the
manœuvres of my friends, the international diplomatists, the Pavian or
Ravennese finds himself fighting on behalf of peoples with whom alliance
is transitory and artificial.”

“But he will not find himself fighting so often,” I rejoined. “Countries
do not join battle as recklessly as cities. The larger the bulk the
slower the turning to bite.” “And meantime,” interposed the philosophic
shade, “the war-tax in peace is heavier than anciently in war. And
neither in war nor in peace can there be the joy of fighting that comes
from personal keenness in the issue. The wars of town with town, of sect
with sect, of neighbour with neighbour, so far from being fratricidal
and unnatural, are the only human forms of war. ’Tis only neighbours
that can feel what they are fighting for, ’tis only brothers that can
fight with unction. The very likeness of brothers, their intimate
acquaintance with the points of community, gives them an acute sense of
the points of difference, and provides their combat with a solid
standing-ground at the bar of reason. Least irrational of all
internecion were the fratricide of twins. Save the war of self-defence,
civil war is the only legitimate form of war. Military war—how
monstrous the sound, what a clanking of mailed battalions! Your Bacon
betrays but a shallow and conventional sense of ‘The True Greatness of
Kingdoms,’ when he compares civil war to the heat of a fever, and
foreign war to the heat of exercise which serves to keep the body in
health. For what is foreign war but an arrogance of evil life, an
inhuman sport, a fiendish trial of skill? Why should a home-born Briton
ever fight a Russian? His boundaries are nowhere contiguous with the
Russian’s, his very notion of a Russ is mythical. ’Tis a cold-blooded
war-game into which he is thrust from above. What’s Hecuba to him or he
to Hecuba? Other is it with warfare that is personal, profoundly felt.
Civil war—how sacred, how close to men’s bosoms! When Greek meets
Greek, _then_ comes the tug of war.”

“In religious wars, too,” eagerly interrupted the _advocatus diaboli_,
“’tis nearness that is the justification—Homoousian versus Homoiousian.
Why in heaven’s name,” he added with a spice of malice, “should a
Mussulman cry haro against a Parsee, or a Shintoist against a Mormon?
Here, too, the boundaries are not contiguous; ’twere the duel of whale
and elephant. ’Tis the Christian sects that must naturally torture and
murder one another,” he wound up triumphantly.

“Ay indeed,” serenely assented the shade of Boëthius. “If fighting is to
be done at all, let it be between brothers and not between strangers.
Where ‘a hair perhaps divides the False and True’ ’tis of paramount
importance to determine on which side of the hair we should stand. This
rigid accuracy is the glory of Science—why should not our decimal be
correct to nine places even in Religion? Why wave aside these sharp
differences for which the men of my day were willing to pay with their
lives? When your Alfred the Great translated my _magnum opus_, or even
as late as when your Chaucer honoured me with a modern version, these
questions could vie in holy intensity, almost with your latter-day
questions of Free Trade and Tariff Reform.”

“Ah, the palmy days of martyrdom,” sighed the _advocatus diaboli_, “when
men were literally aflame for _filioque_ or Immaculate Conception. O for
the fiery Arians, Gnostics, Marcionites, Valentinians, Socinians,
Montanists, Donatists, Iconoclasts, Arnoldites, Pelagians, Monophysites,
Calixtines, Paulicians, Hussites, Cathari, Albigenses, Waldenses,
Bogomilians, Calvinists, Mennonites, Baptists, Anabaptists——”

“Surely you would not call Baptists fiery?” I interjected feebly. He had
apparently no sense of humour, this _advocatus_, for he went on coldly:
“How tame and disappointing these latter-day sectarians: these
Methodists, Plymouth Brethren, Christian Scientists, Irvingites,
Christadelphians, ‘et hoc genus omne.’ I did have a flash of hope when
your Methodists began to split up into Wesleyans, Protestant Methodists,
Reformers, Primitives, Bryanites and the like, whose bitter brotherly
differences seemed to show the old sacrosanct concern for the minutiæ of
Truth and Practice. But no! no one believes nowadays, for nobody burns
his fellow-Christian. Even the burning words of your King’s
Declaration——!”

“August shade,” I interrupted, pointedly addressing myself to the last
of the Roman philosophers, “I concede that when Christianity founded
itself on texts, an infinite perspective of homicidal homiletics lay
open to the ingenuous and the ingenious. And so long as Heaven and Hell
turned on dogma and ritual, an infinite significance attached to the
difference between the theological tweedledum and the theological
tweedledee, so that it is just dimly conceivable one might murder one’s
neighbour for his own good or the greater glory of God. But do not tell
me that to-day, too, the test of belief is bloodshed.”

“_Immo vero_,” cried the Roman shade emphatically. “Was I not clubbed to
death because I believed in Justice and combated the extortions of the
Goths? A belief for which we would not die or kill, what is it?”

“A bloodless belief,” chuckled the _advocatus diaboli_, who, I suddenly
remembered, was more legitimately entitled the _defensor fidei_.



    RISORGIMENTO: WITH SOME REMARKS ON SAN MARINO AND THE MILLENNIUM


                    “Il Calavrese abate Giovacchino
                     Di spirito profetico dotato.”
                      DANTE: _Paradiso_, Canto xii.

    “Pater imposuit laborem legis, qui timor est; filius imposuit
    laborem disciplinæ, qui sapientia est; spiritus sanctus exhibet
    libertatem, quæ amor est.”

                            JOACHIM OF FLORA: _Liber Concordiæ_, ii.


                                   I

“Italy is too long,” said the Italian. We were coming into Turin in the
dawn, amid burning mountains of rosy snow, and the train was moving
slowly, in hesitation, with pauses for reflection. “The line is single
in places,” he explained. “Italy is too narrow, too cramped by
mountain-chains, and above all too long. It is the trouble behind all
our politics. There are three Italies, three horizontal strata, that do
not interfuse—the industrial and intelligent North, the stagnant and
superstitious South, and the centre with Rome which is betwixt and
between.”

“But there is far more clericalism in the North than the South,” I said.
“The Church party is a political force.”

“Precisely what proves my case. In the North everything is more
efficient, even to the forces of reaction. The clericals are better
organised, and are, moreover, supported by the propertied atheists in
the interests of order. But the North is Europe—Germany, if you
will—the South is already Africa.” The train stopped again. He groaned.
“No unity possible.”

“No unity?” I exclaimed. “And what about Garibaldi and Mazzini and
United Italy?”

“It is a phrase. Italy is too long.”

I pondered over his words, and in imagination I saw again all the
Risorgimento museums, all the tablets in all the _loggias_ and town
halls recording those who had died for the Union of Italy, all the
statues of all the heroes, all the streets and piazzas dedicated to
them, while in my ears resounded all the artillery of applause booming
at that very moment throughout the length and narrowness of Italy in
celebration of the Jubilee of the Departure of the Thousand from Quarto.


                                   II

Any one who goes to Italy for the Renaissance will find the Risorgimento
a discordant obsession; flaunting itself as it does in brand new statues
and monuments whose incongruity of colour or form destroys the mellow
unity of old Cathedral-Piazzas or Castello-courtyards. Florence has
managed to hush up the Risorgimento in back streets or unobtrusive
tablets, and Venice with her abundance of _Campi_ has stowed it out of
sight, though Victor Emmanuel ramps on horseback not far from the Bridge
of Sighs, and “three youths who died for their country” intrude among
the tombs of the Doges. The essence of Pisa is preserved by its
isolation from life, leaving Mazzini to dominate the city of his death.
But the majority of the old towns are devastated by the new national
heroes—admirable and vigorous as the sculpture sometimes is—even as
the old historic landmarks are obliterated by the new street names. And
in addition to the pervasive quartette—Garibaldi, Cavour, Victor
Emmanuel, Mazzini—local heroes aggravate the ruin of antiquity. Daniele
Manin thrones in Venice over a winged lion sprawling beneath a triton;
Ricasoli, “the iron Baron,” rules in Tuscany; Pavia is sacred to the
Cairoli; Minghetti runs through the Romagna; Crispi through the South;
Genoa devotes a street, a square, and a bronze statue to Bixio, the
Boanerges of the epic; Viareggio has just put up a tablet to Rosolino
Pilo and Giovanni Corrao, the daring precursors of the Thousand; even
Rubattino—patriot in his own despite—has his statue in Genoa harbour,
on the false ground that he put his shipping line at Garibaldi’s
disposal. ’Tis a very shower of stones, falling on the just and the
unjust alike. And sometimes—as at Asti—all the Heroes are United
beneath a riot of granite monoliths and marble lions.

And even the ubiquitous heroes have peculiar glory in their peculiar
haunts. Cavour is gigantic at Ancona (probably because the town was
freed by Piedmontese troops); he stands in the castle of Verona,
over-brooded by snow mountains: at Turin, his birthplace, Fame wildly
clasps him to her breast in a mammoth monument, crying, “Audace,
prudente, libero Italia.”

A Vanity Fair without a hero I have never chanced on. Little Chiavari
has its grandiose angel-strewn monument to Victor Emmanuel, whom Parma
likewise exhibits flourishing his sword; Pesaro breaks out in tablets to
those who died fighting “the hirelings of the Theocracy”; Rimini has a
Piazza Cavour; priest-ridden Vicenza shelters a statue of Mazzini;
Assisi itself, waking from its saintly slumber, consecrates a Piazzetta
to Garibaldi, and a street to the Twentieth of September on which
Italian troops broke into Rome!

Ah, Garibaldi, Garibaldi, how thou didst weigh on my wanderings! From
Mantua to Ferrara, from Spoleto to Perugia, Garibaldi, always Garibaldi.
I fled to dead Ravenna, lo! thou didst tower in the very Piazza of
Byron; to Parma, and rugged, imposing, in thy legendary cap, leaning on
thy sword, thou didst obsess the Piazza Garibaldi; to Rome itself, and
twenty feet high, thou impendedst in bronze, with battle pieces and
allegories around thee; I retreated to the extremest point of the
Peninsula, and found myself in the Corso Garibaldi of Reggio; I crossed
to Sicily, only to stumble against thy great horse in Palermo and the
monument to thy valour in Calatafimi. For of the statesman, the monarch,
the prophet and the soldier who combined to redeem Italy, it is
naturally the soldier that is stamped most vividly on the popular
imagination, the noble freelance whom the mob deemed divine even before
his death, whose memory the people has rescued from the anti-climax of
his end, selecting away his follies and mistakes and idealising his
virtues, under the artistic law of mythopoiesis, till, shaped and
perfected for eternal service, the national hero shines immaculate in
his sacred niche.

And yet, as the streets show, even the popular imagination has realised
that the soldier would not have sufficed. Thrice blessed, indeed, was
Italy to possess Cavour and Mazzini at the same hour as Garibaldi. It is
a fallacy to suppose that the hour always finds the man, or the man the
hour, or that “il n’y a pas d’homme indispensable.” Many an hour passes
away without its man, as many a man without his hour. Great men perish,
wasted, because there are no forces for them to synthetise: great forces
remain inarticulate, unorganised and ineffective, because they have
found no leader to be their conduit. All the more marvellous that Italy
should have produced simultaneously three indispensable men, Mazzini,
Cavour, and Garibaldi, each of whom had something of the other two, yet
something unique of his own. None of the three quite understood the
others, and Mazzini, who was much like Ibsen’s Brand, was even more
intolerant than Garibaldi of the Machiavellian policies of Cavour, and
had to be swept aside as a visionary. For one heroic, impossible moment,
indeed, the spirit triumphed, the Republic of Rome was born, and
idealism enjoyed perhaps its sole run of power in human history. But
with the disappearance of the Republic, Mazzini might have disappeared
too, for all his influence upon the political Risorgimento; did indeed
practically disappear by acquiescing in the battle-flag of Monarchy.
Garibaldi and Cavour sufficed to create the combination of Force and
Fraud by which political history is made. For though, if any sword might
ever bear the words I saw on a sword graven by Donatello—“Valore e
Giustitia”—that sword was Garibaldi’s, and if ever passion was
patriotic it was Cavour’s, nevertheless the liberation of Italy did not
escape being achieved by the usual factors of Force and Fraud.


                                  III

And, in addition to all these busts, statues, allegories, tablets,
pillars, cairns, lions, bas-reliefs, wreaths, lists of heroes, records
of _plébiscites_ anent annexations, _loggias_ whence Garibaldi orated;
in addition to all the Piazze Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel, all the
Corsi Cavour and Mazzini, all the streets of the Twentieth of September
and other heroic dates, there is the specific Museum of the Risorgimento
from which no tiniest town is immune. To see one is practically to see
all. With the same piety with which their ancestors collected the relics
of the saints, the modern Italians have collected the relics of their
heroes and the war—swords, sticks, photographs, crude paintings and
engravings, old hats, letters, tricolour scarves, medals, pictures,
patriotic money, helmets, epaulettes, broken bombs, cannon-balls,
cartoons, caricatures, faded wreaths, autographs, sculptures, crosses,
proclamations, prayer-books, pictures of steamers conveying insurgents!
And Garibaldi! What town has not some shred of the “Genius of Liberty,”
as the tablet in the old castle of Ferrara styles him—his flask, his
sword, his shirt, his gun, his letters, his telegrams! Peculiarly sacred
is the red shirt which he wore at Aspromonte, though it recalls the
ironic fact that when the charmed, invincible hero was at last wounded
and captured, it was by soldiers of the king he had created and of the
Italy whose triumph he was seeking to consummate. Something Miltonic
seems to emanate from that red shirt:

        “That flaming shirt which Garibaldi wore
         At Aspromonte.”

But for the rest, all these relics are as ugly as the relics of the
saints. Beautiful and exalting as are the Museums in reality, with their
record of sacrifice and patriotism in one of the most wonderful chapters
of history, infinitely touching as is every yellow letter or worn glove,
when imagination has transfused it, these glass cases are outwardly
depressing to the last degree—a warning to the Realist, and a proof
that Art in expressing the soul of a phenomenon is infinitely truer in
its beauty than Nature unselected and unadorned. The wooden-legged
curator of Bologna, who lost his leg at Solferino, is a mere stumping
old bore; the little photograph of twenty-four Garibaldians minus arms
or with crutches is simply discomforting. Even the story of the modern
mother of the Gracchi, Adelaide Cairoli, who gave four sons to her
country, exhales but tepidly from the picture at Pavia of a middle-aged
lady in a bonnet surrounded by young soldiers in variegated costumes.

“Leonessa d’Italia,” cried Carducci to Brescia, and the one word of the
poet wipes out all the crude photographs and grandiose inscriptions by
which that seemingly prosaic town asserts its heroism; one ceases even
to smile at the tablet at the foot of the castle hill, veiling a defeat
in the guise of ferocious Austrian charges, “frequently” repulsed. From
a mock passport of Radetsky in the Vicenza Museum I got a more vivid
sense of the racial hatred than from all the relics and tablets: “Birth:
Bastard of the seven deadly sins. Age: Eighty-two, sixty-five of which
have been passed in robbing Austria of the money she stole. Eyes: Of a
bird of prey. Nose: Of a Jew. Mouth: Open for the swallowing of divorce!
Beard: Nothing. Hair: Enough. Visage: Not human. Occupation: Projector
of Conquests. On the field of battle always at the tail; in the
destruction of unarmed cities always at the head. Country: No country
will own him. Signature: The last five days of his stay in Milan have
paralysed him and he cannot sign. _Visé_: Good for nowhere.” And my most
lively realisation of the transformation wrought in Europe since 1820
came, not from a Risorgimento museum nor from an official history, but
from a black-and-white engraving of Raphael’s _Sposalizio_ “dedicated
humbly” by Giuseppe Longhi in 1820 “to the Imperial Royal Apostolical
Majesty of Francesco I, Emperor of Austria, King of Jerusalem, Hungary,
Bohemia, Lombardy, Venice, Dalmatia, Sclavonia, Galicia, Laodomiria,
Illyria, &c. &c.”


                                   IV

Even those streets or buildings that are free from the Risorgimento are
pitted with records or statues. Padua records with equal pride how Dante
had his exile sweetened by the hospitality of Carrara da Giotto, and how
Giovanni Prati, the singer of to-day, lived in the Via del Santo. Verona
celebrates impartially Catullus and some minor poet whose name I forget,
if I ever knew it, “who by making sweet verses obtained a fame more than
Italian.” Ferrara has a positive leprosy of white plaques. Bassano is
not a great city, but “there is enough celebrity in Bassano,” writes Mr.
Howells, “to supply the whole world.” Things were apparently not always
thus; for when Childe Harold went on his pilgrimage he demanded to know
where Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio were buried.

                        “Are they resolved to dust,
        And have their country’s marbles naught to say?
        Could not her quarries furnish forth one bust?”

Could her quarries possibly furnish forth one _more_ bust, was the
question that came to me on my later pilgrimage. Too much to say have
their country’s marbles. No poet could lodge a night at a house but for
all time his visit must be graven; every local lawyer or engineer is
become a world-wonder; it is recorded where “the inventor of the
perpetual electric motor” died; even an assassination must be
eternalised in a tablet. As for a room in which conspirators met to
smoke and plot, it is for ever glorified and sanctified.

I was relieved, when I did go to Carrara,

        “Nei monti di Luni, dove ronca
         Lo Carrarese,”

to find the supply of marble from its fabular mountains still held out,
but the chief occupation of the town seemed to consist in cutting it
into slabs with great many-bladed machines. Slowly the grim knives
descended, slicing the stone, while a spray moved to and fro to prevent
its overheating by friction. And as I watched these plaques gradually
grinding into separate existence, I heard them beginning to babble their
lapidary language, bursting into eloquent inscriptions to unknown
celebrities—chemists, town councillors, hydrographers, economists—nay,
commemorating the Risorgimento itself in some village yet ungrown. “Rome
or Death,” they cried stonily, and “Italy to her Sons,”and “Ci siamo e
ci resteremo.” And the knives sank lower and lower, and the glories rose
higher and higher, and the spray, hissing, continued to throw cold water
on the enthusiasm, like some cynic observing it was easier to celebrate
the old heroism than under its continuous inspiration to create the new.
Carrara itself—though one would think it took marbles as a confectioner
takes tarts—has its memorials of Garibaldi and Mazzini, besides that
more ancient monument to Maria Beatrice overbrooded by the magic
mountains.

To what cause shall we ascribe this hypertrophy of self-consciousness
since Childe Harold’s day? Is it due to the Risorgimento, or the
pleasure-pilgrims, or is some of it inspired by William Walton, canny
British Guglielmo, to whom the municipality of Carrara has erected one
of his own tablets for his services in stimulating the industry? Is it
William Walton who forces all this glory upon Italy? Is it he who
creates all this hero-worship? Perugino is no new discovery, yet not
till 1865—341 years after his death—did the Commune of Perugia put up
a tablet on that steep street which leads to his modest one-storied
house, while Carducci, though not even a native, already looks out from
the Carducci Gardens towards the rolling snow-mountains on the horizon.
To this same 1865 belongs the imposing Dante Monument in the Piazza
Santa Croce of Florence. But the six-hundredth anniversary of a poet is
a trifle late for his appearance in his native city. True, it had taken
him only two hundred years to force his way into Florence Cathedral, but
that was merely as a painting on wood. The statue of Correggio in Parma
(of course in the Piazza Garibaldi) was not erected till 1870. Tasso has
been “the great unhappy poet” for three centuries. Yet not till 1895 did
Urbino think it necessary to record his visit to the city as the guest
of Federigo Bonaventura. As for Raphael, Urbino’s own wonder-child, that
thirty-six foot monument to him dates only from 1897! All these
testimonials to Art would be a little more convincing if the straight
iron bridges with which Venice and Verona have insulted their fairy
waters, did not prove—like the flamboyant technique of the modern
Italian painter—that Italy has left her art period irrevocably behind.

And the great knives of Carrara go grinding on, “ohne Hast, ohne Rast,”
inexorably supplying celebrity. Like the Greece of the decadence, Italy
has reached its stone age, an age which seems the symptom of spent
vigour, the petrifaction of what once was vital. Nor is it easy to
recognise Mazzini’s soldiers of humanity in a nation whose prophet is
d’Annunzio, whose “smart set” repeats the morals of the Renaissance
without its genius, whose masses appear to spend their lives in lounging
about the streets smoking long black slow-lighting cigars, or
patronising the innumerable pastrycooks. It seems a slight return for
all the heroic agony of the Risorgimento that Europe should be supplied
with an efficient type of restaurant, and a vividly gesturing waiter,
who dissects himself in discussing the carving of the joint.

        “Scuola di magnanimi Sensi,
         Auspicata promessa dell’ Avvenire”

cries a memorial tablet at Brescia, but the ennoblement and the promise
of the future are less obvious than the orgy of nationalistic sentiment.
And when I read how at the recent meeting in North Italy between their
King and the Czar, Italian citizens submitted to being treated like
Russians during a royal progress; herded outside the town while within
it every door was bolted and every blind drawn, as though ’twas indeed
the funeral of freedom, I felt how justified was Mazzini’s unwillingness
to resurrect under a monarchy. And when I think of the great equestrian
monument to Victor Emmanuel II which is to commemorate in 1911 the
jubilee of the dynasty’s sovereignty over United Italy—the monument
that will cost a hundred million lire, and in the belly of whose horse a
_lunch d’onore_ was recently offered by the proprietor of the foundry to
the engineers and artisans, “twenty-six persons in all”—I see how wise
was Mazzini’s protest against the narrowing down of a great spiritual
movement to the acquisition of more territory by a reigning house. It
was a commercial traveller who proudly directed my attention to this
equine lunch, and this standard of greatness just suits a commercial
nation. In this Gargantuan horse the whole millennial dream of Mazzini
may end, and those young heroes of freedom, whose deaths lay so heavy on
his conscience in his black moments, may have died but to add another to
the family party of monarchs who regard the rest of humanity as a
subject-race, transferable from one to the other by conquest or treaty.

However valuable a King may be to Italy as a symbol of Unity, Mazzini
was historically accurate when he pointed out that the conception of
kingship has no roots in Italy, the one epoch of imperial sway being a
mere degeneration of the Roman Republic. It was a fine stroke of tactics
to celebrate Mazzini’s centenary in 1905 as a national festival, in
which the King himself took part. But these centennial tablets and
statues were Italy’s way of stoning its prophet; this festival was
Mazzini’s real funeral, burying his aspirations out of sight so
effectively that the man in the street has forgotten that for Mazzini
the goal of Garibaldi and Cavour was only a starting-point; and a
popular British Encyclopædia assures us that Mazzini “lived to see all
his dreams realised.”

Not that there is a word to be said against the charming and intelligent
young man who presides over Italy, and who has signalised himself among
his peers by founding an International Agricultural Institute. But what
a climax to the long struggle against tyranny, this meeting of King and
Czar! To be sure Italy had already made friends with Austria in the very
year after Garibaldi’s death—“in the interests of the peace of Europe.”

Poor Europe. They make a spiritual desert and call it peace.

“_Songs before Sunrise_”—yes, but where is the sun?


                                   V

More instinct with vitality than the most eloquent tablets to the
Risorgimento are the mural inscriptions of hatred to Austria rudely
chalked up by anonymous hands, especially on the Adriatic side. “Down
with Austria!” “Death to Austria!” “Death to Trent and Trieste!” is the
general tenor, varied by the name of Francis Joseph scrawled between
skulls and crossbones. ’Tis a strange comment on the Triple Alliance,
and the authorities do not seem hurried to remove this glaring
contradiction. Even “Death to the Czar” survives the royal meeting.

But the Irredenta is not to be taken seriously. Not along political
lines does the Risorgimento proceed, any more than along the moral lines
for which Mazzini worked. The second phase, the second Risorgimento it
may indeed be called, is the Industrial Resurrection.
Resurrection—because Italy, whose Merchant of Venice reminds us that
the Italian nobleman was always a trader, and whose leading Florentines
were Magnificent Moneylenders, can hardly be regarded as an Arcadia
transformed by the cult of the dollar. Even Mazzini demanded revival of
“the old commercial greatness”; perhaps he might have been content to
wait patiently through this materialistic epoch, if he were sure it
would lead to a third Risorgimento.

Hygiene has yet to penetrate and suffuse the new prosperity. But if even
Perugia still stinks in places and Foligno everywhere, the country is
getting perceptibly cleaner, and perhaps godliness is next to
cleanliness. But the severest moralist cannot grudge Italy her rise in
wealth and happiness: the poverty of the peasantry, accentuated by the
extravagant ambition of Italy to be a Great Power in the smallest of
senses, has been terrible. At what a cost has Italy achieved her first
Dreadnought, so perversely christened _Dante Alighieri_!

Beggars abound—blind, crippled, or with hideous growths—especially in
the South. Doubtless the influx of the pleasure-pilgrim has increased
the deformity of the population, and the Italian beggar pushes forward
his monstrosity as though it were for sale, but there is real physical
degeneration all the same. The discovery of New York and South America
by the Italian has fortunately co-operated with the discovery of Italy
by the pleasure-pilgrim and the foreign investor, and some 600,000
Italians in the South of Brazil provide the makings of a Trans-atlantic
Italy. Even the semi-savage villages of Sicily are sown with steamer
advertisements, and batches going and returning for jobs or harvests
make an ever-weaving shuttle across the Atlantic.

And if the monuments of the First Risorgimento clash with the old
historic background of Italy, still more is the Second Risorgimento in
discord with it. One almost sees a new Italy, infinitely less beautiful
but not devoid of backbone, struggling out of the old architectural
shell which does not in the least express it. The old ducal and
seignorial cities, the old republics, are developing suburbs, sometimes
prosperous if prosaic, like the new quarters of Florence and Parma;
sometimes grotesque, like Pesaro’s sea-side resort, with its “new”
architecture—lobster-red and mustard-green lattices, and sham golden
doors, carved with busts; sometimes hideous, like the outskirts of
Verona, where under the blue, brooding mountains rises a quarter of
electrical workshops and chemical factories. Ancient towered Asti grows
sparkling with its new brick Banca d’Italia, and its blued and gilded
capitals in the Church of S. Secondo Martire. Look down on Genoa, with
its fantasia of spires, campaniles, roof-gardens, green lattices, marble
balconies, chimneys decorated with figures of doges and opening out like
flowers, and see how the old narrow alleys are almost roofed with
telegraph and telephone wires. Go down to the widened harbour and see
the warehouses, the American sky-scrapers, the smoking chimneys, the
great steamers sailing out for Buenos Ayres and New York, the emigrants
with their bundles. The blue bird sings here no more; you hear only the
bang of the hammer, which Young Italy declares is the voice of the
century.

I look out of my window at Forli (in the Via Garibaldi!) and see a white
minaret and a white campanile gleaming fantastically in the moonlight
over a panorama of russet roofs. There is a stone floor in my bedroom
and no chimney. In the Piazza all is heavy and mediæval: dull stone
colonnades and a rough cobbled road. In a church a grotesque griffin
ramps over a pavement tomb. Yet through these cumbersome stone forms I
feel the new Italy struggling. The Ginnasio Communale of the town
shelters with equal pomp and spaciousness the picture-gallery and the
chemical laboratory. These colonnades and cobbles have no more congruity
with the new spirit than the old seignorial and episcopal Palazzi with
the poor “tenement families” whom they house to-day. Presently life will
slough off these forms altogether. Where an old castle like that of
Ferrara or an old palace like that of Lucca or Pistoja can be tamed to
civic uses, it becomes a town-hall; where no old building is available,
an adequate modern form is created, as in the handsome post-offices with
their almost military sense of the dignity of the common life.

At Pesaro I lodged in a Bishop’s Palace with “steam-heat, telephone,
electric light in all the chambers, garage for automobiles, motor
omnibus to all the trains!” Palatial was it indeed, so absurdly spacious
that the dining-room was only accessible through vast, empty, domed and
frescoed halls, and I could have held a political meeting in my bedroom,
where I slept with a sense of camping out under the infinities. I had no
notion that provincial churchmen were thus magnificent, and I do not
wonder that the Lord Cardinal of Ostia, when he saw how the Franciscans
of the Portiuncula slept on ragged mattresses and straw, without pillows
or bedsteads, burst into tears, exclaiming: “We wretches use so many
unnecessary things!” And yet the Cardinal did not use a single thing
advertised by the ex-Palace of Pesaro.

Nowhere do new and old clash or combine more disagreeably than in
Modena, where crumbling marble-pillared colonnades are painted red, and
meet continuations in new brick. The Cathedral, begun in 1099, guarded
and flanked by quaint stone lions, bears on its ancient campanile a
tablet to Victor Emmanuel. In the great Piazza, church, picture-gallery
and war-monument swear at one another. The Ducal Palace is a military
school, the moat round the old rampart—where once resounded that
archaic song of the war-sentinels—is a public laundry.

And the statues, tablets, monuments, of the Second Risorgimento begin to
vie with those of the first. _Pro Nervi_, painted on the benches on that
desolate cactus-grown shore, among the Leonardesque sea-sprayed rocks by
the old Gropallo tower, attests the activity of a society created to
boom the summer resort, while a tablet celebrates the Marchese who,
foreseeing the future of Nervi, put up the first hotel and died with the
name of the municipality on his lips. I do not think the Marchese
himself foresaw how far Nervi would go. I know I walked miles along its
tramway amid monotonous streets, with no sign of an end. Indeed the
tram-line reaches Genoa.

Nor is the Marchese the only hero of the Second Risorgimento. Trust
Carrara for that—Carrara and Guglielmo Walton!

And the creations of this Risorgimento rival those of the Renaissance in
costliness. Where in all Europe will you find a street as luxurious as
Genoa’s Via XX Settembre—the long colonnade, the granite pillars, the
gilded and frescoed roof, the mosaic pavement where the poorest may
tread more magnificently than Agamemnon.

And the great Gallery of Victor Emmanuel in Milan, what is it but a
secular parody of the Cathedral it faces—nave, transept, dome, complete
even to the invisible frescoes, a _Cathédrale de luxe_? Very sad and
solemn looked the old Cathedral at night, for all its fairy fretwork, as
Life passed it by for its glittering counterpart.


                                   VI

I went to San Marino to get away from Garibaldi. For here—I said to
myself—is the one spot in Italy that is _not_ Italy, that has kept its
pristine Republicanism. Here on the Titan Mount is the one spot that
cannot possibly acclaim the Union. At most I may encounter a memorial to
Mazzini.

I left Rimini by the Gate of the Via Garibaldi which leads straight to
San Marino, and trudging for the better part of a day I saw it impending
horribly some two thousand five hundred feet above me, and after
dragging myself through the Borgo or lower suburb, I toiled in the
darkness up a narrow, steep, slippery, jagged path, on the brink of a
sheer precipice, into—the Via Garibaldi! And in a bedroom looking down
on it—for the only hotel is in a Piazzetta abutting on it—I passed the
night.

In the morning I found a Garibaldi garden and a Caffè Garibaldi and a
Piazza Garibaldi and a Garibaldi bust and a Garibaldi bas-relief and two
Garibaldi tablets; item, a tablet to Victor Emmanuel and a centennial
tablet and street to Mazzini, even a Via of Giosuè Carducci, the
laureate of the Risorgimento.

Part of the explanation is that Garibaldi sought refuge here in 1849,
escaping from “the Roman Republic” to the Ravenna pine-wood where poor
Anita died, and his order for the day—“Soldiers, we are on a Soil of
Refuge,” and his letter of thanks from Caprera—“I go away proud to be a
citizen of so virtuous a Republic”—are reproduced on the tablets. But
the deeper cause of this sympathy is that San Marino is Italian through
and through, and its hoary independence, real enough in the days of the
city states, is become a farce solemnly played with separate postage
stamps and currency, Regents, Councils, militia, peers, commons, Home
and Foreign Secretaries, ribbons, orders, treaties, extradition treaties
and a diplomatic corps in England, Austria-Hungary, Spain, France and
Italy, all to cover its budget of £11,000 and its population of 10,422
souls, enumerated from week to week in the toy press and decreasing by
dozens. ’Tis a game into which all Europe has entered in high good
humour, the grand _farçeur_, Napoleon, even proposing to extend the
Republic’s boundaries, which comprise only thirty-three square miles.
But the Sammarinese had sense enough to see that a greater realm would
be treated more seriously. Mount Titan, as the seat not of a toy capital
but of something answering less humorously to its name, would cease to
be a joke, whereas a State less than one-fourth of the Isle of Wight
might remain for Europe a blessed land of diversion from the eternal
earnestness of the sword, might even save Europe’s self-respect as a
region of civilisation, regardful of treaties and ancient rights. So
serious in fact did the Sammarinese consider the danger of being taken
seriously, that Antonio Onofri who advised against this Napoleonic
inflation stands immortalised as Pater Patriæ.

No doubt the inaccessibility of Mount Titan must have been the origin of
San Marino’s existence in those dim days of the Diocletian persecution,
when the Roman Matron, Felicita, whom the stone-cutter Marinus had
converted to Christianity, “made him a present of the mountain.” And the
same inaccessibility which suited it for a Christian colony contributed
later to the success of its traditional policy of balancing between the
Rimini Malatestas and the Dukes of Urbino. But what prevented Austria
from following Garibaldi into San Marino? What but its enjoyment of the
game, or its desperate clinging to that shred of self-respect? To-day
when the cycle of history has brought us round again to the period of
Ezzelino, when the intellectual or religious concepts, which anciently
veiled usurpations, are contemptuously thrown aside, and the iron hand
crushes in mockery of the combined Jurists of Europe, what stands
between San Marino and extinction? Only the environing Italy. And Italy
plays with the tiny Republic as a father plays with a child. San Marino
has two mortars in the fortress of La Rocca—for what is a State without
artillery to fire on solemn occasions?—and these mortars were presented
by Victor Emmanuel III. Italy also receives the more desperate
criminals, who are boarded out in its prisons, as it supplies the police
from its reserve soldiers, and the Judge from its lawyers. Italy has
provided its only distinguished citizens—they are honorary,—its
national hymn was taken from Guido of Arezzo, the inventor of the
musical scale, and when the beautiful if mimetic Palazzo Pubblico for
the Regents and the Council was opened in 1894, it was with a speech of
Carducci.

Yet “Liberty,” I found, was the keynote of San Marino. Liberty was the
motto of its arms, with their three mountains and plumed towers. Liberty
waved in the white and blue flag and was painted on the shields of the
palace corridors. S. Marino, the author of Liberty, was commemorated in
the cathedral façade with its flourish of Sen. P. Q., and Liberty cried
from the scroll his statue flourished. “In tuenda Libertate vigilis”
warned the inscription over the court room; “animus in consulendo Liber”
counselled the medallion near the tribune, and in choice Latin epigraphs
the transient tyrant, Cæsar Borgia, impugner of Liberty, was denounced
and derided. Sublime it was to stand before the Gothic Palace of the
Regents, on this dizzy Piazza della Libertà with its gigantic statue of
Liberty (her hand on her bannered spear), and to behold the sheer abyss
below, and as from an aeroplane the marvellous panorama of sea and
mountain around, Liberty written in every rugged convolution and glacial
peak, and shimmering in every masterless wave. And yet my imagination
refused to play the game; refused to take with becoming reverence the
crowned and gilded pew of the Regents, the historic frescoes and
friezes, the blue and orange of the “Guarda Nobile,” the képis and
bayonets of the militia, the red facings of the police. All this parade
of “Libertas” was in inverse proportion to the substance, or even to the
power of securing it. The Republic appeared like a banknote without gold
behind it, and an Italian banknote at that; never so essentially Italian
as in the lapidary literature asserting its separateness. This grand
Palace, this costly Cathedral, both built only within the last few years
simultaneously with the motor road that has destroyed the last semblance
of isolation, seemed like that spasm of self-assertiveness which so
often precedes extinction. And I thought that conquering nations might
well mark how easily love can melt what hate would only harden. Imagine
if Italy had brought her mortars against San Marino instead of
presenting them to it, or if she had made a road for her mortars instead
of for her motors!

But as an antique curio San Marino is delightful. I love to muse on the
pomp of its Regents who are elected—like the Doges of Venice—by a
mixture of choice and chance, and go in state to celebrate mass, clothed
in satin breeches and velvet mantle, in doublet and sword and ermined
cap, accompanied by the Noble Guard and the high officers of State, and
then from the Cathedral, still to the clashing of church bells and the
strains of military music, to their semestral thrones in the Palazzo
Pubblico; there to hear a speech from the Government Orator—whose fee
is four shillings—and to take the Latin oath not to tamper with the
Libertas of the Constitution, and to receive the State seals and keys
and the insignia of Grand Masters of the Order of San Marino, perhaps
even the first instalment of the royal budget of a pound a month.

No autocrats are these Regents, despite their regal salary. They are
mere constitutional monarchs, official headpieces to the Arringo or
sovereign Council in which the real power resides. But though
Republican, San Marino is not Democratic, for the Arringo fills up its
vacancies by option. Liberty is not flouted however, for may not every
head of a family—after the half-yearly elections—give the Arringo a
piece of his mind? Time was when the citizen could stroll into its
sittings and tender it the benefit of his advice, but this form of
Liberty seems to have been found too excessive and cumbersome even for
the land of Libertas.

Happy are the nations that have no history, and San Marino seems to have
escaped almost without an anecdote. In 1461 Pope Pius II invited it to
make war with the Magnificent Monster, Sigismondo Malatesta of Rimini,
and rewarded its aid with four castles. Cæsar Borgia came and went in
1503, a nocturnal attack by Fabiano del Monte was repulsed in 1543, and
after that nothing appears to have happened till 1739, when the Cardinal
Legate, Giulio Alberoni, occupied the Republic. But the Republic having
appealed to the Pope was left free again, Clement XII thus becoming a
national hero with his bust in the Palazzo. But national heroes of its
own it has none. It has adopted the cult of Garibaldi, though he
preaches Italian Unity, and made honorary citizens of Canova, Rossini
and Verdi, and it has almost appropriated the famous numismatist,
Bartolommeo Borghesi, who did at least live here, if he omitted to be
born here, and who dominates one of the wonderful mountain-terraces,
holding a book and gazing carefully at the only point where there is no
view. But as to the “Viri Clarissimi et Illustres Castri Sancti Marini”
blazoned on the Palazzo staircase, between shields of “Libertas,” I fear
their celebrity had not reached me. Doctors, artists, counts,
dignitaries of the Church—I was impartially ignorant of them all.

What is to account for this paucity of personalities? Had a great saint
or a great poet arisen here, we should have explained it glibly by the
pious isolation among the eternal mountains, looking down upon the
eternal sea, under the everlasting stars. Had a new Acropolis or a new
Parthenon risen on this hill of the Titan, we should not have lacked
proofs of the inevitability of the new Athens. But nothing has arisen.
Giambittisti Belluzzi, the military architect of its walls and of the
Imperial Castle at Pesaro, is San Marino’s highest name in art, while in
literature its chroniclers point to Canon Ignazio Belzoppi, “letterato
di molta fama,” born in 1762, author of the heroi-comic poem, “Il
Bertuccino” (The Little Monkey)—_unpublished_!

For life to be perfect then, small circles are not enough, _pace_ my
friend Boëthius. They must tingle with life, perhaps even with death.
Can it be that the _advocatus diaboli_ was right, and that the snug
security of a diplomatic mountain-fastness has bred mediocrity? I tell
him angrily that the place is a Paradise and he answers calmly that it
is only a Parish. Can it be that the only Paradise possible is a Fools’
Paradise?

But a serpent has entered Eden, crawling probably by the motor-car road.
He has insinuated doubt of holy authority and the Sammarinese begin to
eat of the Tree of Knowledge. _Il Titano_ is the organ of the
Socialists—a Titan in revolt—and the _Somarino_ serves the
Clericals—with the accent on the Santo. “Preti!!!” is the ejaculatory
title of an article in the number of _Il Titano_ that came into my hands
(April 24, 1910). “We might say impostors, falsifiers, _canaille_,” it
begins pleasantly, “but we say instead ‘Priests,’ which is a substantive
that comprises all the others.”

And thus across its precipices San Marino joins hands with “Young
Italy,” whose programme according to the organ of that name embraces the
exiling of the Vatican beyond the frontiers of Italy, the sweeping away
of the bankrupt remains of Christianity, and the abandonment of
Imperialism and the African adventure. I will engage there are even
Futurists in San Marino.


                                  VII

I must confess to a smiling sympathy with this “Youngest Italy”
party—if the little half-baked literary and artistic clique of
Futurists can be called a party. I can understand the oppression of all
the glorious Italian past, all those massive buildings and masterpieces,
and stereotyped forms of thought. Like the son of a genius, modern Italy
is cramped and overshadowed. Hence the rabid yearning for some new form
of energising, this glorification of the moment and perpetual change. In
a fantastic fury of iconoclasm the Futurists demand even the destruction
of the creations of ancient genius that overhang their lives—they would
make an art-pyre as fervently as Savonarola. Climbing the Clock Tower of
St. Mark’s Square, they threw down coloured handbills repudiating the
vulgar voluptuous Venice of the tourist. “Hasten to fill its fetid
little canals with the ruins of its tumbling and leprous palaces. Burn
the gondolas, those see-saws for fools!” So far so good. But mark the
beatific vision that is to replace this putrefying beauty. “Raise to the
sky the rigid geometry of large metallic bridges, and manufactories with
waving hair of smoke. Abolish everywhere the languishing curves of the
old architectures.” How characteristic of the Second Risorgimento! It
must be by an oversight that the smoke is still permitted to be
“waving.” I imagine that the resurrection of the old Campanile of Venice
must have been the last straw. For ten hundred and fourteen years this
gloomy old tower had impended, and when it did at last fall of its own
sheer decrepitude, lo! it must be stood up again, exact to the last
massy inch, and even with the same inscription—_Verbum caro factum
est_—on its bells. As if a bell could have no new message after a
millennium! Let the historian, at any rate, mark that the Futurists did
not rise till the Campanile was not allowed to fall. The police, taking
the Futurists seriously, prohibit their meetings, which will end in
making them take themselves seriously. But they are a useful
counteractive to the Zealots of the Zona Monumentale, who, in their
passion for the ruins of Rome, forget the claims of life. When the
Present says, “I must live,” the artist and the archæologist too often
reply: “_Je n’en vois pas la nécessité_.” Carducci even called on Fever
to guard the Appian Way. But cities exist for citizens, not for
spectators, and when the telephone bell of the Present rings, we should
reply like the Italian waiter: “_Pronto! Desidera?_” We cannot do in
Rome as the Romans do, for they have to live, not look at Ruins. And let
us not expect the Romans to do in Rome as we do. If tramways _must_ run
along the Via Appia, at least Fever will retire before them. How long is
it our duty to guard the ruins of the Past? Suppose the tombs and
temples of the Appian Way should threaten to collapse altogether, have
we to keep them in a state of artificial ruin? Augustus boasted that he
found Rome brick and made it marble. If the industrial Risorgimento
found Rome marble and made it brick, I suppose there are compensations
for Augustus. Imperial Rome never thought of dedicating a slab of that
marble to the nameless pauper dead, worn out in the obscure service of
their country, as Industrial Rome has done in a touching inscription.
And should Rome extend the tale of its bricks to house the homeless
troglodytes who pig in the remains of that ancient marble, I will throw
up my cap with the Futurists.

Pisa is to me a dream-city, but to the Pisans it is a centre of the
glass industry and the cloth industry, with municipalised gas. They have
done handsomely in leaving me my dream-city outside the town life. If
topographical obstacles prevent other ancient cities from thus surviving
themselves, let me be thankful for small mercies. There was one old inn
at Perugia which had escaped the electric light and the
pleasure-pilgrims, and where the porter peeled the potatoes, but as I
sat this very Spring, dining in the quaint courtyard, lo! to my chagrin
the light of modernity flooded it for the first time. But there chanced
too that night so joyous a band of University students, on gymnastic
business bent, the old courtyard resounded with such pranks, and songs,
and cheers, such fulness of young new life, that I felt Perugia could
not for ever live on griffins and Peruginos and Baglioni horrors. In
that moment even the joyous madness of the Futurists appeared to me
saner than the gloom of a Gissing concluding his Italian journeys “By
the Ionian Sea” with the wish that he could live for ever in the Past,
the Present and its interests blotted out.

It is a cheap æsthetic to retire to the Past, too blind to see beauty in
the Present, and too anæmic to build it for the Future. But humanity is
not a museum-curator; the cult of ancestors, once the backbone of
Hindu-Aryan civilisation, survives only in China. The cult of
descendants has taken its place, the Golden Age is before, not behind,
and the debt we owe to our fathers we pay to our sons, not necessarily
in the same currency. No doubt the Past is ivy-clad, the Present raw and
the Future dim. But as happiness does not come from the search for
happiness, neither does beauty come from the search for beauty. “Rather
seek ye the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto
you.”


                                  VIII

So despite the slow black cigar, the ubiquitous _farmacia_ and
_pasticceria_, despite the pervasive petrifaction of past glory, I feel
that a vigorous breeze of young thought moves through Italy, and that
Mazzini is not entirely swallowed up in the belly of the Great Horse.
“_Il nullismo_” was an Asti election-poster’s shrewd summary of the
programme of the Clerical Moderates, “_lo star quieti—forma ipocrita di
reazione_.” If Italy escapes the reaction involved in standing still, we
may yet see a Third Risorgimento that will resurrect Mazzini. Even a
Republican Congress has met freely, if with closed doors.

The popular Italian newspapers, like the windows of the bookshops, are
far more intellectual than our own, and there is a healthy readiness to
try social experiments under the popular referendum. If the
nationalisation of the railways does not yet pay, on account of the
multiplicity of officials, it has at least provided a more punctual
service than of yore, and the third-class passenger is treated as a
human being. A Jew as Premier and another as Syndic of Rome constitute
an _amende honorable_ for the Italy which established the Ghetto and,
cramping a prolific race, produced in Venice the first specimen of the
American sky-scraper. Capital punishment is abolished—the apostle,
Beccaria, duly petrified at Milan—and despite the legend of the
stiletto and the vendetta nobody demands its restoration. Phlebotomy
prevails alarmingly, through the habit of using a knife as if it were
the mere point of the fist, but it is a peaceable and polite people. The
_niente_ with which the veriest vagabond deprecates your thanks, the
_prego_ of the courtlier defence against gratitude, are the outer and
audible sign of an inner gentleness. Irritatingly vague as regards time
and space and money, a foe to definite agreements, a lover of the
horizon and the _buona mano_, running restaurants with unpriced menus,
and shops with unmarked goods, the Italian has always the saving grace
of respect for things of the mind. Who ever saw a picture of Tennyson
labelled—like the photographs of Carducci—“Mighty Master, Sublime
Poet, Refulgent National Glory!” There are moods in which I could
applaud even the stones.

But it is the revolt against Rome which stirs most furiously the
_intelligenza_ of Italy—as of all the Latin world. While in England the
fight against Christianity is confined to a few guerilla papers in low
esteem, in Italy it is a pitched battle. And the modern Anti-Pope is far
more formidable to the Vatican than the mediæval, being a rival idea,
not a rival man. The Vatican handicaps itself superfluously by sneering
at the Risorgimento—though I am told its haughty refusal to recognise
the Unity of Italy brings in shekels from Mexico, Colombia, and other
strongholds of the spirit. Instead of joining in the recent Garibaldi
jubilation, it asked through its organ whether the prosperity of the
South had not been sacrificed to the interests of the North. And so far
from making concessions to Modernism, it is sitting tighter than ever,
issuing lamentable Syllabuses and Encyclicals, accumulating lists of
suspects. It censured Minocchi for allegorising the first three chapters
of Genesis, and excommunicated Murri for saying the Pope ought not to
play at politics. The freethinkers complain uneasily of its
aggressiveness, lamenting—with unconscious humour—that it makes
propaganda! The army itself—ay, even the old Garibaldians—are not safe
from its guiles! As if the Congregation of the Propaganda were of
to-day!

But the confiscation of monasteries and churches to military and civil
uses—to barracks, agricultural colleges, gymnasia, hospitals,
what-not—the transformation of elaborate historic shrines into State
Monuments, are indications of the ground lost to the Church in its own
peculiar land. Strange was it to see squads of half-nude lads at
gymnastics in the old Renaissance church of St. Mary Magdalen at Pesaro.
Still more surprising to see a carpenter sawing away in the lofty,
well-preserved Church of the Jesuits in Pavia, his wood stacked in the
forsaken frescoed chapels, as in a strange return of Christendom to its
origins, or an illustration of the new _Logion_, “Cleave the wood and ye
shall find me.” I bought coal at a still more decayed church, taking off
my hat involuntarily.

The journalism of the street-nomenclature keeps pace with the progress
of anti-Clericalism. “Sons of an age which you foresaw,” the epitaph on
Giordano Bruno’s tomb assures that victim of the Inquisition, and many a
Via or Piazza Giordano Bruno in places apparently remote from the
currents of thought—Pesaro, Perugia, Foligno, Urbino on its isolated
rock—testifies that even a tombstone may speak the truth, provided that
it is only posthumous enough. Urbino, indeed, lonely rugged Urbino, is
compelled to put up in the Church of S. Francesco the significant
warning: “The law punishes disturbers of religious functions.” And even
more illuminating than the Giordano Bruno streets or the Giordano Bruno
societies is the mushroom rapidity with which streets of Francesco
Ferrer have sprung up all over Italy. Florence, with biting sarcasm, has
made its Via Francesco Ferrer out of its Archbishop Street. Tiny San
Gimignano of the many towers has inserted a tablet to Ferrer in the wall
of an open loggia of a theatre, “in order that Thought should be
fruitful and survive Death.” . . . “Victim,” it cries, “of the
sacerdotal tyranny, inaugurating the not distant time when there shall
be neither oppressed nor oppressors!”

Such millennial dreams in such mediæval cities prove that Mazzini was no
sport of nature, but a true son of Italy; seed-plot of all the
mysticisms and aspirations from St. Francis and Dante to Gioberti and
David Lazzaretti.


                                   IX

“ROME OF THE CÆSARS gave the Unity of Civilisation that force imposed on
Europe. ROME OF THE POPES gave a Unity of Civilisation that Authority
imposed on a great part of the human race. ROME OF THE PEOPLE will give,
when you Italians are nobler than you are now, a Unity of civilisation
accepted by the free consent of the nations for Humanity.” In this
magnificent synthesis, written in 1844, Mazzini proclaimed the mission
of Rome to the world. His mental outlook was infinitely broader than
Lazzaretti’s, whose story is one of Life’s many plagiarisms of the
Palestinian original, complete even to martyrdom and an awaited
Resurrection. Yet Mazzini shared with the peasant-prophet of Monte
Amiata the assurance of a not distant Millennium to be inaugurated by
his followers. ’Twas a blindness due to standing in his own white light.
The simplest observation of the facts reveals that humanity is only at
its alphabet, that we are living in the mere infancy of our planet’s
human history, in a Dark Age to which the millennial century will look
back with incredulity, though a few Gissings will be anxious to live in
it. The overwhelming majority of mankind to-day abides religiously in
primitive autocosms, which have little resemblance to the cosmos as it
is, and every variety of savagery from African cannibalism to European
rubber-hunting and American negro-lynching is still in vogue. Half the
land of the globe is still in undisturbed possession of our animal and
insect inferiors. Canada, Australia and South America show a few human
figures dotting the endless spaces—in Matto Grosso in Brazil a hundred
thousand people occupy half a million square miles, in Patagonia each
man may have a San Marino Republic to himself, in Alaska the population
of a small English country town is spread over six hundred thousand
square miles. Even the United States, which are sixty times as large as
England, have only double its population. In Asia, the cradle of
so-called civilisation, there are still nomad populations, and large
tracts, as of Arabia and Tibet, have never been penetrated by the foot
of an explorer. The bulk of Africa as of Russia—which is half Europe
_plus_ half Asia—is still given over to barbarism. One third of the
whole human race is packed into China, a land where torture is still
legal. Decidedly there is plenty of scope for “the mission of Rome,” nor
need the lover of the picturesque yet apprehend the monotony of the
Millennium, as, girdled by stars and infinities, crossed by the tails of
comets, rent and seamed by earthquakes, our planet continues its amazing
adventure.


                                   X

But if spiritual Imperialism has made little progress in the land of
Mazzini, Rome does not lack its party of material Imperialism, ever
egging on Italy to deeds of derringdo and to the fulfilment of its
“manifest destiny” in Tripoli and Cyrenaica, whose arid deserts flow
with milk and honey under the imperialistic pen. More in sorrow than in
anger a writer in the _Tribuna_ rebukes these hotheads as merely
literary: conquistadors by fury of metaphor and prosopopœia, whereas
real Imperialism—Francesco Coppola perceives with envy—is the
irresistible instinct of an imperial race, whose expansion is
unconscious or even anti-conscious, and which is rich in strong silent
Kiplingesque heroes. Italy, a young nation, whose bones are not yet set,
whose teeth are not yet sprouted, is falling, he laments, into the
senile decay of socialistic rhetoric, and pacifical and humanitarian
doctrine. The degenerate Italians have pulled up the railway lines to
prevent the soldiers going off to the wars of expansion, have made a
pother about “slavery,” and have diverted the world by setting Civil and
Military Governors cock-fighting before Commissions of Inquiry. “And
then we call ourselves the heirs of Rome!”

But, prithee, good Signor Coppola, is it not enough to be the heirs of
Italy? Is it not enough to inhabit the most beautiful land in the world,
the richest-dyed in historic tints, the greatest breeder of great men,
the garden of the arts, the temple of religion? Is there no such thing
as Intensive Imperialism? To produce the highest life per square mile is
surely infinitely more Imperial than to multiply Saharas of mediocrity,
to follow Stock Exchange adventures in Abyssinia or to decimate the
dervishes of Benadir? In the village of my home there is only a single
shop, and it writes over its windows the proud legend: “To lead in every
department is our ambition.” But Italy, in open competition with the
world, achieved the hegemony of civilisation in every department. What,
beside this, is the military heirship of Rome?

And has England, the heir of Rome, so enviable a position? Far from it,
alas! That unconscious or anti-conscious instinct of hers has landed her
in the gravest situation of which consciousness was ever called upon to
take stock. Holding nearly a quarter of the globe with a white
population—outside these islands—of only ten millions; with a
heterogeneous empire of Colonies, Crown Colonies, and Possessions,
incapable of being brought under a single constitution or concept but
that of force and tending to destroy such constitutions or ethical
concepts as survive at home; with manifold subject races which she is
too proud to make freemen of the Empire as Rome did; threatened and
troubled in Europe by Germany, in Asia by India, in Africa by Egypt, in
America by the States, in Australia by the Chinese and Japanese, the
heir of Rome has seen her palmy days. The equilibrium is too unstable,
and the part that came with the sword must perish with the sword. The
Russo-Japanese war—the most important event in history since the fall
of Rome—by destroying the glamour of the white man and showing that
Christianity is not essential to success in slaughter—has shaken the
foundations of her Indian and Egyptian Empire. The old apprehension that
Russia was the menace to India is justifying itself, but it is Russia’s
weakness, not her strength, that has provided the menace. Britain’s only
future—no mean one indeed—lies in Canada, Australia and South Africa,
and even here it is impossible for her to fill these great continents or
sub-continents with the emigrating surplus of her decaying population,
especially as her emigrants prefer the United States and are often
excluded from her own Colonies. Her utmost hope is to keep these
colonies British in constitution. They cannot be British in
language—French Canada and Dutch South Africa forbid that; they cannot
even be predominantly white, for North Australia is tropical and South
Africa is not a white man’s country but a whited sepulchre—an
aristocracy exploiting the coloured labour it despises, a society poised
perilously on its apex. How unwieldy such an Empire at its best beside
the United States—one continuous area, one language, one constitution,
and but for the hereditary curse of the negro problem, one free and
equal brotherhood! But how cumbrous even the United States, only kept
from breaking into separate States with separate dialects by the modern
network of railways, telegraphs and newspapers! How much more favourable
to intensive and exalted living, a compact little country like Italy,
rich in all the essentials of greatness and happiness!

There was the epic sweep of a statesman in Chamberlain’s vision of a
true British Empire of federated freemen, but even with him Ireland was
incongruously excluded, and the first fine prophetic rapture has chilled
into commercialism under the British incapacity for imaginative
synthesis. What was originally a consummation _devoutly_ to be desired,
and to be achieved only by sacrifice, is now presented as a policy that
will pay, and even pay immediately. In the same breath we have an heroic
trumpet-call and an estimate of the profits. It would, indeed, be
strange if the good coincided so closely with the lucrative. But that is
the trickery of all forms of Protectionist teaching, to dazzle with two
alternative advantages simultaneously. Matilda is the heiress and Madge
is beautiful—who would remain a bachelor when wealth and beauty are to
be had for the asking?

Meantime the British Empire—so envied of the Italian Imperialist—is
fast being conquered by Germany. For what is the mere absence of the
German flag from our shores to our Germanisation in ideas, our
transformation to German notions of conscription, our permeation by the
doctrine of blood and iron? Already a pamphleteer calls for Lord
Kitchener to “take away that bauble.” Whether the new German province
which is replacing the old land of freedom continues to be called
British or not, is a secondary matter. The formal consummation of the
conquest would even relieve England of nightmares of unmanly terror and
mountains of taxation. I like to think that it was this German province,
and not the England of Edward VII which, ensuing Peace before Honour,
made a compact with the Power of Darkness and put back the clock of
Europe. It could not surely be the old Colossus of Freedom, whose untold
millions fertilise every soil on earth and whose ships outnumber
overwhelmingly the united vessels of the world—it could not surely be
“the England of our dreams” which grasped the hand of Russia and sent
Finland and Persia to their dooms, and now trembles to stir a finger for
any cause, however forlorn, and any ideal, however British.

Let the nation of Mazzini take heed before it loses its own soul to gain
the world.


                                   XI

No, it was a road of quagmires and quicksands into which Depretis and
Crispi led Italy. The less she knows and thinks of Empire the better for
her and for mankind. Latin self-consciousness, if it has its faults of
rhetoric, at least enables Young Italy to see that Empire is not to be
bought without an ethic of blood and iron, which is foreign to the home
ethic. Imperialism is only for races strong or stupid enough to run a
double standard. Italy has given her blood prodigally enough for the
right to be Italy, but she has given it of her own free will. And
volunteer armies, self-inspired, are the only sort that a true
civilisation can tolerate. Despicable is the nation which sends
mercenaries to do its fighting. The soldier like the priest—whose black
robe makes the eternal ground-bass of Italy—is one of the unfortunate
differentiations of humanity—a type that should never have been
evolved. Specialisation—division of labour—is all very well when it
gives us doctors, carpenters, engineers, lawyers, but every man must do
his own praying and his own fighting. It is comforting to find Young
Italy as set against soldiers as against priests.

Though United Italy has followed the normal path of nationhood—large
army, large navy, large taxes, and my country right or wrong—there is
still a saving remnant to justify Mazzini’s prophetic faith in his
people. And, indeed, one does not know where else to look for “the
saviours of the world.” The French—once the favourites in the
rôle—have too hobbledehoyish a devotion to the sex-joke, the Germans
are too tamed, the Americans too untamed, the Spaniards and Russians too
brutalised by bull-fights or _pogroms_, the English too inconsequent.
Possibly the New Zealanders may be the first to build the model State,
possibly some people of Latin America, that land of sociology and
secular education. But these are too remote for their results to leaven
the Old World, and on the whole the Italians with their ancient
civilisation and their renewed youth appear least unfitted to lead
humanity onwards.

But the notion that the Millennium can be reached through a people with
a mission, inspiring as it may yet prove to Italy, is a notion not
without its limitations and drawbacks. It may easily degenerate into
aggression as with the English or into inactive vanity as with the Jews.

True that the Jews—the original missionary people, in whom the families
of the earth were to be blessed—have made the Millennium possible by
their creation of the Bourse. In their Bank of Amsterdam, founded in
1609 by the refugees from Spain and Portugal, the infinitely complex
system of international finance took its rise. Professor Sombart, the
German professor of economics, credits the Jews with the entire
invention of the apparatus of the Stock Exchange. And the Stock
Exchange, in criss-crossing with threads of gold all these noisy
nationalities, is turning war into a ridiculous destruction of one’s own
wealth. In the security necessary for international investments lies the
prime hope of the world’s peace. But it was an evolution whose form was
not foreseen by the Hebrew prophets. Isaiah predicted that the peoples
would beat their swords into ploughshares; he should have said shares in
ploughs.

The success of Esperanto—likewise invented by a Jew—the spread of
World Congresses, and even of World Sports, constitute, like Science and
Art, a valuable corrective to the excesses of Nationalism, which has
been sadly overdone in the reaction against the cosmopolitanism of the
eighteenth century. Nationality, born as it is of historical,
biological, and geographical differences, is a natural division of human
groups, though a division devoid of the rigidity which patriots pretend,
inasmuch as all nationalities are constantly intermarrying both
physically and spiritually. But Nationalism—as Bernard Shaw has pointed
out—is a disease. It is a morbid state due to defect of the organs of
Nationality—to wit, territory and liberty. In health we are not
conscious of our organs, it is dyspepsia not digestion that forces
itself upon our attention. Nationalism rages in Poland or in Ireland as
it once raged in Italy. But for Italy, which has won back territory and
liberty, to continue at fever heat would be sickness, not health. Even
too much self-admonition to do noble things for national reasons rather
than for their own sakes is a morbid self-consciousness. To make history
too consciously is to make histrionics.


                                  XII

Neither the reformed Vatican of Gioberti nor the kingless Quirinal of
Mazzini can provide the next phase in human evolution. Profound was that
teaching of Jesus—you cannot put the new wine in the old bottles. It
was not unnatural that an Italian should look to Rome for the third
mission. Rome of the Cæsars, Rome of the Popes, Rome of the People! What
a fascinating trinity! The conception of a Rome that having lived twice
as a world-force must live again, seized Mazzini in his youth,
enthralled his maturity, and was the key-note of his speech to the Roman
Assembly in the brief hour of his glory. “After the Rome of conquering
soldiers, after the Rome of the triumphant Word, the Rome of virtue and
of example.” And he repeated it, not yet disillusioned, in the very last
years of his life; founding a journal to bring _Roma del Popolo_ into
being. And yet he had in the interim published “From the Council to
God,” that wonderful sketch of the new religion for which the world is
thirsting, had added one of the grandest pages to the unclosed Bible of
humanity. That page, indeed, is perhaps still theology rather than
theonomy, still too saturated with the old optimism—humanity may have
to part even with the assurance of personal immortality, and go, starred
with sorrows and sacrifices, to its obscure doom. But this optimism,
this burning conviction of a new heaven and a new earth, is the very
stuff of which great religions are made, and Mazzini appears like the
mighty prophet of the next phase of the spirit, the divine iconoclast
whose fuller faith was to give the death-blow to the old theology. And
the real miscarriage of Mazzini’s career is not that he laboured for a
Republic and begot a Monarchy, not that he sowed for a new social order
and reaped stones and statues, but that he spent himself on the doubtful
means instead of the certain end, on the creation of a United Italy
which was to be the organon of the new spirit, but which is only a
nation like the others. The great soul that might have kindled the new
faith wore itself out in futile political conspiracies and vain exiles.
How much grander, how much worthier of his genius and saintliness, might
have been Mazzini’s achievement, had he not been obsessed, like the
Middle Ages, by the figment of the Holy Roman Empire; had he, instead of
working through Nationalism, gone straight for the foundation of a new
international Church. Moses, a greater than Mazzini, had failed in this
dream of a prophet-people, nor is there any more assurance that the Law
will go forth from Rome than from Zion. Mazzini himself protested
against the notion that the French continued to be the chosen people;
after 1814 their initiative ended, he urged. He protested, too, against
the notion that an instrument created for one purpose can be used for
another. Why, then, did he, whose organising powers might have found
supreme scope in establishing the religion of the future, throw away his
life for Nationalism? Valuable instrument of world-progress as
nationality within sane limits may be, alluring as is the idea of
working through one’s own nation, perfecting a model people, in whom all
the families of the earth shall be blessed, the instruments of the new
order exist insufficiently in any one people, if indeed they exist
sufficiently in the whole population of the globe. More insistently even
than nationalities the world needs a new Church. By giving up to Italy
what was meant for mankind, Mazzini missed creating what he prophesied,
missed fulfilling and purging of its monastic and mediæval limitations
that earlier prophecy of the twelfth-century Calabrian abbot whom Dante
placed in Paradise. “The Kingdom of the Father has passed, the Kingdom
of the Son is passing,” taught Joachim of Flora. “The Third Kingdom will
be the Kingdom of the Holy Ghost.”



                               PRINTED BY
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                                 LONDON



                              THE WORKS OF
                            ISRAEL ZANGWILL

                    Uniformly bound, price 6s. each.

                 CHILDREN OF THE GHETTO. A Study of a
                   Peculiar People.
                 DREAMERS OF THE GHETTO.
                 GHETTO COMEDIES.
                 GHETTO TRAGEDIES.
                 THE CELIBATES’ CLUB, being the United
                   Stories of THE BACHELORS’ CLUB and THE
                   OLD MAIDS’ CLUB.
                 THE GREY WIG. Stories and Novelettes.
                 THE KING OF SCHNORRERS. Grotesques and
                   Fantasies.
                 THE MANTLE OF ELIJAH.
                 THE MASTER.
                 WITHOUT PREJUDICE (Essays).


                         _And with_ LOUIS COWEN

                 THE PREMIER AND THE PAINTER. A Fantastic
                   Romance.


                                 _Also_

              BLIND CHILDREN (Poems).
                     One vol., sq. 8vo, price 5s. net.

              MERELY MARY ANN.
                     Fcap. 8vo., in coloured paper wrapper,
                1s. net.

            London: WILLIAM HEINEMANN, 21 Bedford St., W.C.

                 *        *        *        *        *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Archaic spellings and hyphenation have been retained. Punctuation and
type-setting errors have been corrected without note.

This book contains Hebrew and Greek characters in the phrase: rendering
עלמה as παρθένος, or “virgin,”. Some reading devices will not display
some or all of the characters. The characters may be omitted entirely by
the device or replaced with other symbols. Computer browsers will
generally display the characters correctly if you wish to see the phrase
as it was originally printed.





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